Louisiana "routinely" keeps inmates in custody past release dates, Justice Department finds
Louisiana's longstanding practice of detaining incarcerated people past their scheduled release dates is unconstitutional, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
In a news release summarizing the findings of an investigation that uncovered a pattern of "systemic overdetention" in Louisiana prisons dating back at least a decade, the federal agency said "there is reasonable cause to believe" that the state "routinely confines people in its custody past the dates when they are legally entitled to be released," violating their due process rights under the 14th Amendment.
The state department has already faced lawsuits brought by formerly incarcerated people, alleging that the timelines of their incarcerations were unlawful and violated their constitutional rights to due process.
Officials at the Justice Department also accused the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections of ignoring repeated orders to address lapses in incarceration policies and procedures that seem to directly contribute to the state's overdetention problem, and said the bureau has remained "deliberately indifferent" to the injustice for the past 10 years
"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 Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division, in a statement included with the agency's news release.
"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," Clarke said. "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."
A longer report accompanying the Justice Department's announcement this week indicated that Louisiana prisoners were held in custody past their court-ordered release dates at increasing rates between 2012 and 2022, with instances of overdetention skyrocketing from 522 to 1,108. The corrections department itself recorded an average of 200 immediate release cases per month in 2017, where people were held on average for 49 days past their scheduled release dates, according to the Justice Department.
More recent incarceration data from Louisiana showed these practices have continued unmitigated, federal authorities said Wednesday, citing portions of the investigation that found the state corrections department held roughly 27% of all inmates released between January and April 2022 past their scheduled release dates. About a quarter of those people were unlawfully held in custody for at least three months past their dates, with the median length of overdetention falling at 29 days, according to the Justice Department.
"In just this four-month period, 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. At that rate, this unconstitutional practice costs Louisiana over $2.5 million a year," the agency said, adding that it has notified the department of the report's findings and the "remedial measures necessary" to address overdetention in Louisiana, in accordance with federal law.
A spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections said in a statement to CBS News on Thursday that the bureau will be unable to share "a comprehensive response" to the federal allegations until it conducts a thorough review of the Justice Department's report.
"The Department of Corrections is currently reviewing the U.S. Department of Justice report that was released Wednesday," the statement read. "Without a full review of the report's findings and documentation supporting said findings, it would be a challenge to provide a comprehensive response at this time. The Department of Corrections has been cooperative for the entire duration of the investigation, and we will continue to work with DOJ throughout this process."
In a class action suit that preceded the Justice Department's investigation into overdetention in Louisiana, plaintiffs and former inmates Brian Humphrey, Joel Giroir and Bryan White accused the state department secretary James LeBlanc of acknowledging but failing to address the state's practice of "unlawfully and knowingly overdetaining thousands of Louisiana residents in its custody every year."
Humphrey, who was eligible for immediate release on his sentencing date in April 2019, was instead held in custody for 27 days in Bossier Parish, while Giroir was detained for nearly the same amount of time beyond his own legal release date in February 2021, the lawsuit states. White was eligible for immediate release from custody in Orleans Parish in early March 2021, after pleading guilty with credit for time served, but ultimately spent the next seven weeks incarcerated "on a 'parole hold,'" according to the complaint.
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