DOJ Accuses Louisiana Of 'Routinely' Keeping Inmates Locked Up Past Release Dates

‘Our investigation uncovered evidence of systemic violations,’ Assistant Atty Gen. Kristen Clarke says.

Louisiana corrections officials are on notice from federal authorities for unconstitutionally keeping inmates behind bars past their sentences.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Jan. 25 that it sent a written notice to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LDOC) saying it believes the corrections department routinely overdetains prisoners in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

According to federal prosecutors, LDOC has been on notice about chronic overdetentions for more than a decade but has failed to correct the problem.

Consequently, Louisiana officials deny inmates their due process rights, federal prosecutors alleged. The failure to implement adequate policies and procedures to prevent the problem causes systemic overdetentions and shows “deliberate indifference,” the statement said.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said Louisiana has “a fundamental duty” to release inmates on time.

“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,” said Clarke, who works in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

“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.”

The New York Times reported last year that about 200 inmates in Louisiana were held beyond their sentences each month, adding up to approximately 2,500 of 16,000 prisoners released each year.

By the state’s own records, the average overdetention period was roughly 44 days in 2019, the Times found. Louisiana, which typically incarcerates a higher percentage of its residents annually than any other state, offers no explanation, apology or compensation to the inmates.

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Louisiana residents are paying the cost for overdetentions. According to the DOJ, LDOC had to pay parish jails at least $850,000 in fees for overdetaining inmates in the first four months of 2022. Each year, overdetentions amounted to more than $2.5 million

“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,” U.S. Attorney Brandon B. Brown for the Western District of Louisiana said.

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The DOJ sent the written notice to Louisiana officials under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), which included supporting facts and the minimum remedial measures to fix the problem.

Federal authorities launched a probe of LDOC in December 2020 under CPIPA, which authorizes the Justice Department to address a pattern or practice of state or local correctional facilities violating inmate rights.

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