Louisiana routinely incarcerates people past the end of their sentences, a constitutional violation the state had been warned of for at least a decade, the U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday. The department, announcing the findings of its multiyear review of the state’s correctional system, said that since 2012, more than one quarter of the people released from Louisiana state custody were held past the end of their sentences. The state was deliberately indifferent to the due-process rights of those individuals, DOJ said, reports the Wall Street Journal. “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, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division. The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections “has been cooperative for the entire duration of the investigation, and we will continue to work with DOJ throughout this process,” a spokesman for the agency said.
The state’s system for calculating and managing prison sentences is rife with opportunities for error, the Justice Department found. Physical records crisscross the state at least twice by mail, fax or hand-delivery, sentence calculations are largely done by hand or on 30-year-old software, and no one is tracking the scale of the problem internally, the department said. Louisiana has repeatedly failed to update its systems and has declined to receive sentencing documents electronically from clerks of court, the report said. Delays are costly. Federal investigators estimated that detaining inmates past their release dates costs the state $2.5 million annually. The state has 49 days to implement meaningful changes before the Justice Department may file a lawsuit to force corrective measures, the department told Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, though DOJ said it hoped to resolve the matter “through a more cooperative approach.”