BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – The U.S. Department of Justice says it believes the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections has violated inmates’ Fourteenth Amendment by keeping them in custody beyond their release date.

According to a news release, the DOJ learned the LDOC denies due process rights and does not release prisoners in a timely fashion, nor has it created policies to correct the problem. Federal officials said LDOC has been aware of the issue for more than a decade and has failed to make the proper adjustments to set people free on time.

Between January and April of 2022, almost 27% of people released from LDOC were held past their release date. Of those people, 24% were held for at least 90 additional days, according to the DOJ. Officials said in that four-month period, LDOC had to pay parish jails an estimated minimum of $850,000 in fees for days beyond their sentences.

LDOC released this statement in response to the Justice Department report:

“The Department of Corrections is currently reviewing the U.S. Department of Justice report that was released today. 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 Department of Corrections has been cooperative for the entire duration of the investigation, and we will continue to work with DOJ throughout this process.”

Federal officials said the investigation started in December 2020 under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.

What does the DOJ notice say?

“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 Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “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. 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.”

“Persons are legally incarcerated every day in America and are ordered by the court to serve certain sentences primarily for punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation purposes,” said U.S. Attorney Brandon B. Brown for the Western District of Louisiana. “This ultimately benefits the individual, society and the criminal justice system. 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. Timely release is not only a legal obligation, but arguably of equal importance, a moral obligation. We look forward to working with the Louisiana Department of Corrections to ensure that it has the policy and tools going forward to prevent overdetention from reoccurring.”

“It is the job of the U.S. Department of Justice to protect the constitutional rights of every person, including individuals who are incarcerated,” said U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Gathe Jr. for the Middle District of Louisiana. “While all government agencies operate under constraints, that is no excuse for violating the rights of people who have served their sentences and are ready to start their lives anew. Federal law requires equal justice for all. My office is committed to enforcing that mandate.”

“Today’s findings demonstrate the Department of Justice’s commitment to hold accountable institutions entrusted to protect the rights of all citizens, including people within the Louisiana Department of Corrections,” said U.S. Attorney Duane Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “Lawfully convicted people should not serve a day beyond their official designated release dates. Louisiana is wasting money on incarcerating people beyond their release dates and incurring legal expenses in defending lawsuits filed by the overdetained. We look forward to working with all affected parties to correct this problem.”

Federal lawmaker responds

U.S. Congressman Troy Carter Sr. released a statement regarding the LDOC violating the constitution:

“I am deeply angered by today’s news that the Department of Justice has determined the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections violated the Fourteenth Amendment. It is long past time that we reform this broken institution, and it is infuriating that the LDOC has known about this corruption for over a decade.

“Our correctional system should be focused on reform and rehabilitation. It is a basic responsibility of the State to guarantee that all incarcerated individuals are released in a timely manner. The civil rights of ALL people held in Louisiana’s jails are of the utmost importance and I will work to ensure that the LDOC enacts reforms to prevent future overdetentions.

“My heart breaks for everyone who has suffered at the hands of this unjust system. As a Black man and the father of two Black sons, I am acutely aware of the toll that systemic racial injustice has on our neighborhoods. I am committed to ending mass incarceration by investing in our communities, ending for-profit prisons, and supporting education and re-entry resources.”

Congressman Troy A. Carter Sr.