Louisiana Routinely Jails People Weeks, Months, Years After Their Release Dates

Inmates at Orleans Parish Prison.Bart Everson/CC BY 2.0/Flickr

According to NOLA.com, one state inmate was imprisoned 960 days—almost three years past his official release date.

Nola.com reported that the Louisiana prison system routinely keeps people imprisoned for weeks, months, or even years after their release dates, according to a 2017 state auditor’s report, along with former inmates and defense attorneys. Hundreds, and potentially thousands of people have been affected. One inmate was imprisoned almost three years past his release date.

Civil rights lawyers have filed suits against the Louisiana Department of Corrections or the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office. Attorney’s allege that officials have known about the problem for years but have failed to correct it.

Criminal justice experts say that the injustices could be fixed if state and local authorities coordinated with each other. Instead, they blame each other. The sheriff’s office blames the Department of Corrections and vice versa.

“The criminal justice system is based on the idea that if you do a crime you serve your time and then you go free. And that going free part is not being carried out correctly in Louisiana,” said civil rights attorney William Most.

“It’s hard to be in prison. But it’s even harder to be in prison knowing that you should be free and not having any idea when you’re going to get out,” Most said.

The recurring problem in Louisiana depends on a single legal question: "does the sheriff’s office or the Department of Corrections have the right to keep someone imprisoned past their scheduled release date for any reason, and if so, how long?"

In 2011, the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it is “clearly established law that a prison official must ensure an inmate’s timely release from prison” once the sentence has expired. “Timely release” has been defined as under 48 hours.

Emily Washington, an attorney with the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, said the Louisiana cases aren’t about “mere paperwork and bureaucracy. It’s about holding public actors accountable. And it’s about the value we place on liberty, whether that is a day, a week, or months in someone’s life.”