NEW ORLEANS, LA. – A lawsuit filed today against the head of the Louisiana Department of Corrections, Secretary James LeBlanc, seeks justice and rightful compensation for thousands of Louisianans unlawfully held in prisons and jails well past their legal release dates, due only to bureaucratic incompetence. Secretary LeBlanc–who has known for years that the Department of Corrections (DOC) routinely holds people longer than their sentences–has failed to remedy these systemic inefficiencies. As a result, Louisianans are routinely detained in prisons and jails for days, weeks, or even months longer than the law permits, contrary to the orders of judges and at the expense of taxpayers.
This class action lawsuit comes as the State is pressed to address overcrowding in Louisiana’s prisons, where people are unable to practice social distancing to combat the spread of COVID-19.
“Each day the COVID-19 crisis has forced Louisiana to see the public health impacts that can result from its mistakes in the criminal justice system,” Promise of Justice Executive Director Mercedes Montagnes said. “We understand the particular gravity of this problem today: extra time in prison could mean unnecessary exposure to COVID-19 and ultimately death.”
The Cost of Bureaucratic Incompetence
Secretary LeBlanc has been aware of the overdetention due to his department’s policies and practices since at least 2012, but has failed to make any meaningful changes or improvements. That year, an internal investigation found that the department was holding over 2,000 people each year an average of 71 days beyond their release dates. Another investigation, in 2017, revealed that the DOC still had not fixed the problem, and that overdetention was costing the state $2.8 million per year in housing costs alone. Brian Humphrey, the named plaintiff at the center of this litigation, was eligible for release on the day he was sentenced by a judge, but he was held for an additional 27 days.
“Holding people past their release dates only because of missing paperwork or lack of administrative organization is completely unacceptable,” said William Most, of the Law Office of William Most. “Keeping people longer than legally allowed is not only a moral failing, it prevents people from being back with their families, it impacts their ability to plan for housing and employment, and costs Louisiana millions of unnecessary dollars each year.”
Stephen Weil of Loevy & Loevy, a Chicago-based law firm also representing the class, said of the lawsuit, “The defendant’s own studies showed that thousands of Louisianans have sat in prison long past when they were supposed to be out, not even knowing when the DOC would get around to releasing them. They deserve their day in court.”