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Missed a court date? Louisville amnesty program could help avoid jail time

People charged with nonviolent, low-level offenses can request amnesty through the Jefferson County Attorney this month. Those who qualify would no longer have the possibility of arrest and jail time looming over them.  

The ACLU of Kentucky held a press conference Thursday alongside city officials, criminal justice reform advocates and community groups like the Louisville Urban League. The League’s CEO and President Sadiqa Reynolds said the high number of in-custody deaths at the downtown jail motivated this effort. 

“These are people who oftentimes simply could not afford court costs. They didn't show up because they didn't have that money, maybe in many cases,” Reynolds said. “ So they've had a bench warrant issued and they have sort of driven around and walked around this community in fear.”

Reynolds said keeping people out of jail for low-level offenses would save taxpayer dollars the city could use to address residents’ critical needs.

“We are trying to save money for our city so that we can really invest in the things that we need: affordable housing and all kinds of other things that help to keep people out of custody,” She said. 

Angela Rae with the Louisville Metro Public Defenders Office said eligible applicants’ court cases will be rescheduled and they won’t face additional penalties. 

“You will not be taken into custody in this warrant. I can't emphasize enough that we mean this as an amnesty for people to come in and address these issues to try to mitigate the numbers of people in that jail,” Rae said.

Nonviolent misdemeanors and class D felonies are some of the cases that would qualify for amnesty. Rae said if enough people utilize the opportunity it could pave the way to expand eligibility for the program. 

Democratic mayoral candidate Shameka Parrish-Wright, who is the Community Advocacy and Partnership Manager of the Louisville Bail Project, said at the event that the concept of amnesty periods in Louisville isn’t new. She added they need to happen more frequently in order to effectively mitigate issues like jail overcrowding and help people avoid unnecessary incarceration.  

“A lot of people that come into the criminal justice system have an outstanding bench warrant,” Parrish-Wright said. “When we started this Bail Project work in 2018, we asked about the last amnesty period, which was a few years before then, and it has taken a long time to bring this together.”

The deadline to request amnesty is May 31. People can apply online or fill out physical forms, available at the Hall of Justice building on Sixth Street. Hearings for approved applicants will take place on June 7, 8 or 9.

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