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ACLU Sues Louisiana Parish for Alleged Bail Extortion Scheme

A civil rights lawsuit says a state judge and a private company are effectively holding defendants for ransom.

Jack Kurtz/ZUMA Press/NewscomJack Kurtz/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Henry Ayo, a resident of East Baton Rouge Parish in Louisiana, says that when he appeared before a judge via closed-circuit television for his bail hearing on August 8, 2016, the judge did not ask him about himself or his case before she set his bail. The judge then told Ayo that, upon his release, his pre-trial supervision would be handled by a private Baton Rouge company, Rehabilitation Home Incarceration (RHI).

It took Ayo's wife two months to gather up enough money to post his $8,000 bail, but when she did, RHI told her she would also have to pay the company another $525 before Ayo would be released, then another $225 a month while he was awaiting trial. According to a contract Ayo was required to sign, he could be sent back to jail for violating the agreement.

Ayo's story is one of several alleged in a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Poverty Law Center last night. The suit accuses RHI, Louisiana state judge Trudy White, and East Baton Rouge Parish of racketeering and extortion. According to the lawsuit, the bail scheme has forced hundreds of criminal defendants to pay RHI—a company with political connections to White—to be released from jail, "effectively holding them for ransom" and violating their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

"This is predatory and illegal," Brandon Buskey, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project, said in a statement. "Rehabilitation Home Incarceration puts its own price on people's liberty and forces them to pay up, over and over again. Worse, this could not happen without the court and the jail enabling this scam, and ignoring the rights of those charged and presumed innocent."

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal actions across the country—in Georgia, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Alabama, Texas, Illinois, and California—challenging what civil libertarians say amount to debtors' prisons, where defendants are stuck behind bars simply because they cannot afford to pay.

According to the Louisiana lawsuit, defendants' monthly payments to RHI typically last 90 days but sometimes run indefinitely, until the resolution of their case. Defendants may also be billed for ankle bracelets and mandatory classes.

RHI is the only approved vendor for pre-trial supervision in White's court, the 19th Judicial District Court of Louisiana, although there is no formal contract between the court and RHI, the suit says. White has referred roughly 300 defendants to RHI over the last two years. The suit also says the sheriff and warden of East County Parish enforce a policy of not releasing arrestees without permission from RHI.

The owners of RHI—Cleve Dunn Sr. and his family—are politically connected to White, according to an investigation by the local TV channel WAFB. Cleve Dunn Jr. served as the chairperson of White's 2014 re-election campaign committee, and the campaign also paid Dunn Sr. for marketing services.

RHI did not respond to a request for comment. Judge White's office declined to comment.

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  • SQRLSY One||

    USA... Below third-world standards of justice! What are we here, 5th world or 7th world?

  • Liberty =><= Equality||

    Louisiana, not USA.

  • Hugh Akston||

    All money bail is extortion.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The 8th Amendment requires that excessive bail not be required.

    Everyone has the right to bail, including murderers and it needs to be not excessive.

  • Liberty =><= Equality||

    Denying bail is not requiring excessive bail.

    If I refuse to sell you an apple, it wouldn't make sense for you to complain that my price is too high.

  • Jerryskids||

    Wait until he's ordered into drug and alcohol rehab or anger management classes or marriage counseling or something similar and he finds out what those cost and who owns those companies. I'm not saying Pathways is a predatory racket operated by some evil sick crooked fucks, but I'm saying if Pathways was a predatory racket operated by some evil sick crooked fucks it'd be hard to tell any difference.

  • BYODB||

    Err...so what we're saying here is that no one should receive bail and instead should just be locked up until the conclusion of their trial? Sure thing! I'm sure that's preferable!

  • Hugh Akston||

    That's a nice false dilemma you've got there.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Nope.

    We're saying that to be released pending trial, you should have to pay bail money, not bail* money.

    See, you get your bail money back when you go to trial, as you fulfilled your promise. But you don't get your bail* money back.

  • BYODB||

    So the interest you would pay to, for example, a bail bondsman should also be illegal yes? That is what we're saying here, correct?

    Is bail a right or a privilege?

    If it's a right, it should be eliminated entirely.

    If it's a privilege, then what makes these particular restrictions so terrible vs. some other type of the exact same thing? Because 10 - 20% of your bail bond you don't get back depending on the deal you get.

    It becomes a debtors prison type of situation when their case log goes back months or years, but that's a different problem since trials are also required to be speedy even though that is barely a consideration anymore.

  • EscherEnigma||

    (A) Bail bondsman are not required. You can pay your bail, and then receive your bail money back in full, without ever talking to one.
    (B) The bail bond contract is between you and the bail bondsman, not between you and the court.

    That said? It's pretty simple. If the judge tells you your bail is $8000, and you pay that $8000, you should be free to go pending trial. If after you pay $8000 you are told you need to pay an addition $525? Then someone done fucked up.

  • Merl3noir||

    No, what we are saying is that a person should not be forced to pay bail through only one company, and that the judge should set bail based upon information about the accused, which the judge is not likely to have happened if bail is set without asking a question about the accused. And that the one and only bail bond company the judge will allow you to work with, just happens to work on the judges campaign and donates to the judges campaign fund.

  • BYODB||

    I absolutely can agree that at first blush, with the limited information presented in the article, that this process could very well be corrupt. It's Louisiana, which isn't known for it's stand up and honest politicians.


    But that being said, my real problem here is that people don't seem to recognize that bail is already a racket so this being more or less of one appears to be the only interest here.


    Bail amounts to a pre-judicial punishment in order to be allowed not to spend the intervening time between being arrested and your trial in jail with the promise that you'll get some or all of it back if found 'not guilty' sans any interest you could have otherwise earned with it.


    At it's very baseline it is skewed towards the not-poor people's favor, you see. Or, in other words, Reason is attacking a symptom not a cause as is the ACLU and SPLC; two organizations that do not fill me with confidence in their assertions. I thought by taking the more absurd position someone would mention this, but apparently not.

  • Liberty =><= Equality||

    You get bail back regardless of the outcome of your trial, so long as you show for it.

    Both bail and pre-trial detention are just there to make sure defendants show up for trial; they're not punishment.

  • Longtobefree||

    So the proper way would be to pay the racketeers (RHI) using asset forfeiture funds instead of the personal funds of the alleged guilty accused? But that way lacks the fun of watching the poor fool squirm the whole time he is on 'bail', before the judge drops the hammer on him.
    I mean are we going to start expecting evidence and proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and all that stuff?

    Anyone know what the actual charge is against Henry Ayo? Drugs, spitting on the sidewalk, voting for Trump, what? All I could turn up on the web from Baton Rouge was a 2016 obituary for one 84 years old. Assuming not our guy.

  • Ride 'Em||

    To a certain extent, I believe the bail system has evolved to where it is no longer a way to insure a defendant shows up for trial but to facilitate plea deals. With plea deals everyone wins except the defendant. First the DA overcharges, then the Judge sets financially high bail requirements, the defendant sits in jail for a long time as the trial is delayed, the DA offers to reduce the charges with the penalty being probation and time served, the defense attorney gets to brag what a great deal he negotiated, the DA pads his resume, and the judge gets to clear the case off his schedule without any jeopardy of appeal. The only one who suffers is the defendant who gives up certain rights to be on parole and now has a criminal record.

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