The Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU joined together in filing a federal lawsuit against Rehabilitation Home Incarceration, a company that allegedly extorted accused individuals before they were released from jail.
According to an SPLC press release, more than 300 people were assigned to this company by 19th Judicial District Judge Trudy A. White for an indefinite amount of time. They were told to pay hundreds of dollars to the company before they were released but after they had paid their bail. During a bail hearing, she would determine whether or not people were a “flight risk” or if they posed a danger to society. She would then assign them to the company. However, the company mandated a $525 signup fee, monthly charges and other mandated fees. At no point did White assess whether an individual could afford to pay the charges.
“This is a disturbing example of our justice system being twisted beyond recognition by a scheme to make money,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC deputy legal director. “People who had already paid their bail were held ransom and extorted out of hundreds and thousands of dollars. They simply wanted their freedom while they awaited their day in court. That desire was exploited by Rehabilitation Home Incarceration.”
Kaiasha White, not related to the judge, was handed over to the company despite still being in jail. Her family was forced to pay the company’s signup fee as well as her bond. She was forced to stay in jail for a month because the jail wouldn’t release her until the family had paid the signup fee.
“When you have to go to court, you shouldn’t have to worry about being held for ransom because a business wants to profit off of you,” she said.
Another plaintiff in the case couldn’t afford to pay both fees, so the company forced him to pay $225 a month while waiting for his trial. He was threatened with arrest if he didn’t pay. His family ultimately was forced to pay approximately $1,000. The only “supervision” the company did was requiring phone calls, and most times those went unanswered, he said.
“This is predatory and illegal. Rehabilitation Home Incarceration puts its own price on people’s liberty and forces them to pay up, over and over again,” ACLU senior staff attorney Brandon Buskey said in a release. “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 suit is aimed at the company as well as the executive director Cleve Dunn Sr., who was paid for “marketing services” by Judge White’s 2014 reelection campaign. Dunn’s son, Cleve Dunn Jr., was also the chairman of the judge’s campaign committee.
“People have been jailed and extorted after their release simply because they couldn’t pay a private business and its owners. That is not how our system of justice is supposed to work,” said Louisiana ACLU executive director Marjorie Esman.
Dunn is charged with illegal racketeering and the company is accused of violating people’s Fourth and 14th Amendment rights. They’re seeking damages for those that fell victim to the company. The lawsuit is part of the SPLC’s economic justice efforts to protect those exploited by economic status, the release explained.