NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana's prison system routinely holds people beyond their release dates, the U.S. Department of Justice said Wednesday in a report concluding that the state has failed for years to develop solutions to “systemic overdetentions” that violate inmates' rights and are costly to taxpayers.
The federal department said the state could face a possible lawsuit in mid-March if it doesn't fix the problems, according to a letter to state officials.
Corrections officials have been cooperating in the investigation but are “deliberately indifferent” to the situation despite having been put on notice about it more than 10 years ago, according to the justice department's 27-page report.
“Between January and April 2022 alone, 26.8% of the people released from LDOC’s custody were held past their release dates. Of those overdetained people, 24% were held over for at least 90 days,” the federal department's news release said.
In that four-month period, the state paid an estimated $850,000 to parish jails holding state inmates beyond their release dates, according to the report.
The Department of Corrections issued a statement saying the Department of Justice report was being reviewed. “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 emailed statement said. “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.”
Wednesday's report included “minimal” remedial measures. Among the recommendations, it said the corrections department needs to develop a system to share documents and information electronically among courts, parish jails and prison officials to better communicate when an incarcerated person's release date is set and any changes that might result in eligibility for earlier release.
Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the state by people incarcerated past their release dates. Last year, a panel of three 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges refused, in a 2-1 ruling, to dismiss corrections Secretary James LeBlanc and two other state prison system officials from one such lawsuit filed by attorneys with the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center. The corrections officials have asked for a rehearing by the full 5th Circuit, currently with 16 judges.
Other such lawsuits are being handled by another advocacy group, the Promise of Justice Initiative. "We have known for a long time that the Louisiana DOC is deliberately indifferent to the systemic overdetention of people in its custody,” Mercedes Montagnes, Executive Director of the organization, said in a news release. “We are grateful that the DOJ investigated this matter and we’re hopeful that DOC will finally take its constitutional obligations seriously.”