The U.S. Department of Justice launched a statewide civil investigation into the way Louisiana releases its prisoners, the Associated Press reports. It was not immediately clear what prompted the probe. New Orleans attorney William Most and other law firms as well as the MacArthur Justice Center have questioned the state’s actions involving inmate releases. Most represents several clients with pending lawsuits against the state corrections department and local law enforcement agencies, alleging illegal delays in releases. “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 has said. “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. Corrections department 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 lead to earlier parole eligibility when prisoners 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. Changes to the state’s sentencing laws further complicate things for the corrections employees charged with processing an estimated 60,000 time computations processed each calendar year.