Excessive detention keeps prisoners behind bars despite being considered free
The problem pops up sporadically in other states, including neighboring Mississippi, and at the Federal Bureau of Prisons. New York City recently agreed to pay up to $300 million to thousands of current and former inmates in local jails who had been held within hours or days of their release. But those wait times are relatively short compared to what prisoners experience in Louisiana.
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The state regularly sends prisoners sentenced under the age of 20 (and those with serious physical or mental problems) to jails or jails operated by local parish governments, which are the equivalent of county governments elsewhere. This means that parish jails serve not only as traditional prisons, but also as officially designated extensions of the state prison system.
It’s a confusing, slow system with tangled lines of communication and jurisdiction – and many prisoners who have been held beyond their release dates have fallen into the chasm between dysfunctional state and parochial bureaucracies.
A judge released Brian Humphrey from the Bossier Parish Jail in northwest Louisiana on April 16, 2019, after serving three years for an assault-related offense. He got ready to leave that night. Instead, it languishes.
The corrections department, for reasons that are unclear, waited 10 days to even begin processing its documents, according to records obtained as part of a 2021 class action lawsuit its attorneys filed against the state. Instead of releasing Mr. Humphrey, as he was legally required to do, the parish sheriff transferred him to a state-run labor camp outside Shreveport, where he remained until his release on May 13, 2019.
It was 27 days after its release date.
Louisiana has one of the most overcrowded prison systems in the country, but parochial sheriffs are often reluctant to release people they believe are at high risk of committing new crimes. Some even consider that inmates housed in local facilities deserve to be retained as free labor.
In October 2017, Sheriff Steve Prator of Caddo Parish, which includes Shreveport, told reporters he feared a recent criminal justice push in the state could be bad for parish governments. Not only would this lead to higher crime rates among the “bad” former prisoners, but it would also deprive its staff of the free labor provided by the “good” ones.