Feds: LA corrections department violated constitution by holding inmates past release dates

The U.S. Department of Justice announced that there is reason to believe the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LDOC) violated the constitution by holding inmates past their release dates.

In the news release, the justice department noted that

  • the LDOC denies individuals’ due process rights to timely release from incarceration
  • LDOC’s failure to implement adequate policies and procedures causes systemic overdetentions
  • LDOC is deliberately indifferent to the systemic overdetention of people in its custody

For more than 10 years the state department has been on notice of its overdetention problem and has failed to take adequate measures to ensure timely releases of incarcerated individuals from its custody, according to the news release.

“The Constitution guarantees that people incarcerated in jails and prisons may not be detained beyond their release dates, and it is the fundamental duty of the State to ensure that all people in its custody are released on time,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our investigation uncovered evidence of systemic violations by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections that have resulted in the routine confinement of people far beyond the dates when they are legally entitled to be released. We are committed to taking action that will ensure that the civil rights of people held in Louisiana’s jails and prisons are protected. We stand ready to work with state officials to institute long overdue reforms.”

Between January and April 2022, 26.8 percent of the people released from LDOC’s custody were held past their release dates. Of those overdetained people, 24 percent were held over for at least 90 days, and the median number of days overdetained was 29.

“Today’s findings demonstrate the Department of Justice’s commitment to hold accountable institutions entrusted to protect the rights of all citizens, including people within the Louisiana Department of Corrections,” said U.S. Attorney Duane Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “Lawfully convicted people should not serve a day beyond their official designated release dates. Louisiana is wasting money on incarcerating people beyond their release dates and incurring legal expenses in defending lawsuits filed by the overdetained. We look forward to working with all affected parties to correct this problem.”

In that four-month time frame, LDOC had to pay parish jails an estimated $850,000, at a minimum, in fees for the days those individuals were incarcerated beyond their lawful sentences. According to those numbers, the unconstitutional practice costs Louisiana over $2.5 million a year.  

The department provided LDOC with written notice of the supporting facts for these findings and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them.

“Persons are legally incarcerated every day in America and are ordered by the court to serve certain sentences primarily for punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation purposes,” said U.S. Attorney Brandon B. Brown for the Western District of Louisiana. ”This ultimately benefits the individual, society and the criminal justice system. There is an obligation both to incarcerated persons and the taxpayers not to keep someone incarcerated for longer than they should be. This can be costly from a physical and mental standpoint for the incarcerated individual and a waste of money for the taxpayer. Timely release is not only a legal obligation, but arguably of equal importance, a moral obligation. We look forward to working with the Louisiana Department of Corrections to ensure that it has the policy and tools going forward to prevent overdetention from reoccurring.”

“It is the job of the U.S. Department of Justice to protect the constitutional rights of every person, including individuals who are incarcerated,” said U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Gathe Jr. for the Middle District of Louisiana. “While all government agencies operate under constraints, that is no excuse for violating the rights of people who have served their sentences and are ready to start their lives anew. Federal law requires equal justice for all. My office is committed to enforcing that mandate.”

The Justice Department initiated the investigation in December 2020 under CRIPA, which authorizes the department to take action to address a pattern or practice of deprivation of legal rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities.

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