Class action suit asks Louisiana DOC to stop jailing people past release dates

A new class-action lawsuit seeks to stop the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections from keeping people in prison or jail past their release dates, the suit says.

The suit, filed Friday in federal court, follows a December announcement from the U.S. Department of Justice that it has opened an investigation into the same practice. The Department of Justice said its probe will look into the state corrections department’s policies and practices for ensuring the timely release of state prisoners in both state and local facilities, including those eligible for immediate release.

In response to the federal investigation, a DOC spokesman said in statement on Dec. 3 the agency, “takes this very seriously, and will assist in whatever way necessary in this investigation,” he said.

The named plaintiff in the lawsuit, Joel Giroir, was eligible for immediate release the day of his sentencing on Jan. 26. But as of Friday, he remained jailed, his lawyers’ news release says. Daily calls from his family and friends seeking answers about his continued incarceration went unheeded, the release says.

“Internal investigations, individual lawsuits, and public pressure have failed to convince the Department of Corrections to stop holding thousands of people past their release dates each year. A court order is now needed,” Caroline Gabriel, of Most & Associates, said in a statement.

WDSU has reached out to corrections department for comment.

Instances of overdetention well documented

Multiple ongoing federal lawsuits and a 2017 Legislative Auditor’s report allege the state routinely keeps prisoners in jail past theirs release dates, for days, weeks and even months. The cause of overdetention stems in part from the corrections departments’ time-consuming method of processing release paperwork, which can be impacted by a lack of efficient coordination with court clerks’ offices and sheriff’s offices, the lawsuits reveal.

WDSU reported a year ago that court documents in one federal suit stated the corrections department admitted that in a single month in 2019, 231 inmates were held for an average of 44 days “after a judge ordered them free.”

An Orleans Public Defender’s Office attorney at the time called over detention “a huge problem.” Attorney Stas Moroz said then the office identified a new case of someone being detained past their release date on a weekly basis.

In 2019, state lawmakers adopted legislation to set up a task force to examine the issue.

“We really need to not just look at it but fix it. It’s just not excusable to have people sitting in jail weeks or months longer than they’re legally entitled to release,” Moroz said last year, of the task force.

A 2019 state auditor’s report also found problems with the correction department’s method of calculating release dates. The auditor reviewed 40 sentence computations and found errors in five of them. The errors resulted in the wrong release dates, which in three of the cases were off by 15, 90 and 248 days. In a letter responding to the audit, Department of Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc said the agency lacks resources to review each computation but noted supervisors do audit a sample of them and review those of new employees.

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