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EBR Parish applies for $2 million grant to overhaul justice system

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BATON ROUGE- East Baton Rouge Parish Officials just submitted paperwork for a grant that could change the way defendants are processed at the East Baton Rouge Parish Jail.

The grant, which totals $2 million, would put a magistrate judge, prosecutor and a public defender at the jail. The purpose of that would give judges setting bonds all of the information needed before decisions are made.

One of those cases that may have been impacted if those resources were available is one that sparked community outrage. Mark Russell was given a low bond after he was accused of raping a 17-year old male. When the District Attorney's Office got involved to have his bond revoked or increased, Russell tried to kill himself. Russell was ultimately picked up from a mental hospital and given a more sufficient bond of $285,000.

"We want to make sure those that are arrested are processed in and out as they should be," District Attorney Hillar Moore said. "Those that are a danger to society stay there."

This week, Moore was among a cadre of officials that traveled to Stockton, California to see how their city's justice system operates. The meeting was productive, according to Moore. If the grant becomes a reality, a backlog for offenders going to court for arraignments could be eliminated. Currently, it takes anywhere from one to four months for an arraignment. Defendants could see arraignments the week of their arrest if the money arrives.

In addition to having more manpower at the jail, a risk assessment tool would be used to determine if an offender is a risk to society. That could also determine sufficient bonds.

"Justice is supposed to be swift certain and just," Moore said. "Right now, we are not able to accommodate that."

The parish will find out in September if it received the grant. Baton Rouge is among 11 cities that applied for the money.

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