FACT CHECK: Half The People In Louisiana Jails Haven’t Been Convicted Of A Crime

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a legal advocacy group, tweeted Sunday that “half of the people in Louisiana jails haven’t even been convicted of any crime.”

Verdict: True

A study that relies on Justice Department data shows that at least 49 percent of all people in Louisiana jails are unconvicted. The statistic can be misleading without further context.

The study cited only looks at jails, which are distinct from state or federal prisons. Jails are administered by local law enforcement and are, by and large, holding facilities for persons awaiting trial, conviction, sentencing or transfer to another facility. The statistic is not surprising per se because jails, by function, hold people who have not been convicted of a crime – although local jails do house convicted inmates for sentences of up to a year.

The percentage of unconvicted people in jail has risen since 2000 and some unconvicted individuals are kept in jail for as long as a year. SPLC’s claim, that half of those in Louisiana jails are not convicted of a crime is correct.

Fact Check:

Approximately 11.4 million people in the U.S. pass through jails each year. The stays are typically short. In 2013, an average of 60 percent of the jail population turned over in a given week with an average 23-day length of stay for the entire jail population.

About 728,000 people are in jails at any given time. This accounts for approximately one-third of the total incarcerated population.

Louisiana receives a lot of attention because it has the highest incarceration rate of any state. However, Louisiana has proportionally fewer unconvicted people in jail compared to the national average. Nationwide, about 63 percent of jailed individuals were unconvicted.

The number of people in jail has increased about 17 percent since 2000 with most of that growth attributed to more unconvicted people awaiting trial, according to the Department of Justice data. In addition, some individuals remain unconvicted in jails for up to a year.

Some states have reformed their pretrial policies for jails. For example, New Mexico voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2016 that gave courts the ability to deny the release of high-risk defendants while also requiring that low-risk defendants not be detained due to an inability to post bail.

The SPLC’s claim is true, but the statistic requires context and analysis.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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