Louisiana Keeps Over a Quarter of Inmates Detained Past Their Release Dates, DOJ Investigation Finds
"There is an obligation both to incarcerated persons and the taxpayers not to keep someone incarcerated for longer than they should be," a Louisiana district attorney said. "Timely release is not only a legal obligation, but arguably of equal importance, a moral obligation."
A Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation has revealed that Louisiana prisons and jails routinely incarcerate inmates well past their release dates. This practice is in violation of inmates' 14th Amendment rights, and it's costing state taxpayers an estimated $2.5 million each year.
The DOJ has been investigating Louisiana's well-documented habit of keeping inmates detained past their release dates since 2020. While inmates are legally required to be released once their sentence is complete, over a quarter of inmates in Louisiana are kept imprisoned past their release date.
According to the DOJ, between January and April 2022, 26.8 percent of inmates released from Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LDOC) custody were detained past their release date. Overdetained inmates were incarcerated for a median of 29 extra days, and almost a quarter were held for at least 90 days. Such a high rate of overdetention is expensive too. According to the DOJ, during the same period, overdetention cost taxpayers a minimum of $850,000—a sum that stacks up to at least $2.5 million a year.
This problem is seemingly due to systematic incompetence from LDOC officials. According to the investigation, LDOC has a shockingly unorganized method for completing the necessary paperwork to secure an inmate's release. "LDOC does not have a uniform system for receiving necessary sentencing documents from the Clerks of Court and Sheriff's offices," the DOJ's findings letter reads. "Nor does it establish a standard timeline for the delivery of those documents. LDOC maintains a time-consuming process for calculating release dates, which includes both manual calculations and automated processes using an antiquated data management system."
Part of the problem can also be attributed to local law enforcement officials. As The New York Times wrote last month, "Louisiana has one of the most overcrowded prison systems in the country, yet parish sheriffs are often reluctant to release people they believe are at high risk of committing new crimes. Some even view inmates housed in local facilities as worth holding onto as free labor."
Overdetention violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which states that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held in 2022 that overdetention of 30 days or more "constitutes a deprivation of due process," and other circuits have held that even overdetention of hours could be deemed unconstitutional.
"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 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."
According to the DOJ, Louisiana has been "on notice" of its practice of detaining prisoners past their release dates for over a decade, yet it has "failed to take adequate measures to ensure timely releases of incarcerated individuals from its custody," leading to such a shockingly high rate of overdetention. "LDOC is deliberately indifferent in its failure to implement adequate policies and adequately train its employees in order to prevent systemic overdetentions," reads the DOJ's findings letter.
"There is an obligation both to incarcerated persons and the taxpayers not to keep someone incarcerated for longer than they should be," said U.S. district attorney Brandon B. Brown in Wednesday's press release. "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."