DOJ begins probe of Louisiana’s prisoner release practices

Louisiana

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday it has launched a statewide civil investigation into the way Louisiana releases its prisoners.

In a statement, the Justice Department said it will examine the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections’ policies and practices for “ensuring the timely release of state prisoners in the custody of the Louisiana Department of Corrections who are incarcerated in state and local correctional facilities, including practices related to prisoners who are eligible for immediate release.”

“The department has not reached any conclusions regarding the allegations in this matter,” DOJ said in its statement.

The DOJ Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section is conducting this investigation jointly with the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern, Middle, and Western Districts of Louisiana.

“The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections looks forward to fully cooperating with the U.S. Department of Justice,” DOC spokesman Ken Pastorick said in an emailed statement late Thursday. “The DOC takes this very seriously, and will assist in whatever way necessary in this investigation.”

Details about what prompted the probe were not released. However, it comes after New Orleans attorney William Most and other law firms as well as the MacArthur Justice Center questioned the state’s actions involving inmate releases. Most represents several clients with pending lawsuits against DOC and local law enforcement agencies, alleging illegal release delays.

“The Department of Corrections has known about this problem for eight years and failed to take the steps to fix it. Even worse, they have refused to accept help when offered,” Most said in February. “We have not found any other city, county or state that has anything close to the magnitude of Louisiana’s overdetention problem.”

Civil rights attorneys have estimated that Louisiana inmates have been held past their release dates for a collective total of more than 3,000 years since 2012, costing the state millions in taxpayer dollars, The Advocate reported.

DOC leaders have acknowledged the significance of the problem but argue it can’t be solved overnight. They said there are several things that factor into when an inmate is released, including good time credits that get people earlier parole eligibility when they complete rehabilitation programs.

The process also involves an antiquated system for transferring paperwork from one agency to another, often requiring records to be hand-delivered. That often delays DOC’s receipt of necessary documentation from a district clerk of court or parish sheriff’s office, department officials have said.

Changes to the state’s sentencing laws further complicate things for the DOC employees charged with processing an estimated 60,000 time computations processed each calendar year, the department has said.

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