Louisiana Prisons in Violation of the 14th Amendment: 'Unconstitutional'

The Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections (DPS&C) has been found in violation of the 14th Amendment by the Department of Justice, as the state's prisons are keeping people incarcerated beyond their release dates.

According to a news release published by the DOJ on Wednesday, the department has "reasonable cause to believe" that the DPS&C "routinely confines people in its custody past the dates when they are legally entitled to be released from custody."

DOJ reports Louisiana Dept of Corrections
A prisoner walks at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola, and nicknamed the "Alcatraz of the South" and "The Farm," a maximum-security prison farm operated by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections (DPS&C). Inset, the seal of the Department of Justice. The DPS&C was found to have violated the 14th Amendment. Giles Clarke/Getty; Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

According to the 14th Amendment, no U.S. state can deprive any person of liberty without due process of law.

The Justice Department states that the DPS&C has been on notice for more than 10 years now, because of its problem of 'overdetention,' but has failed to take adequate measures to solve the issue within its prisons and ensure incarcerated people are released on time after the end of their sentences.

Now at the end of an investigation started in December 2020, the DOJ has concluded that the DPS&C has denied individuals' due-process rights to release them on time from incarceration; has failed to implement adequate policies to resolve this issue; and "is deliberately indifferent to the systemic overdetention of people in its custody."

According to the DOJ, up to 26.8 percent of the people released from the DPS&C's custody between January and April 2022 were held in prison beyond their release dates. Of the people overdetained in these four months, 24 percent were held in a DPS&C prison for at least 90 days, while the average was 29 days.

In most other states, inmates marked for immediate released are generally processed within hours on their release date.

The issue isn't just a criminal failure of justice. This unconstitutional practice is, on top of being unfair and illegal, incredibly expensive and wasteful. The DOJ reports that the DPS&C paid parish jails an estimated $850,000—at a minimum—in fees for the days these overdetained people were kept in jail beyond their release dates.

"At that rate, this unconstitutional practice costs Louisiana over $2.5 million a year," reads the DOJ news release.

The department has now given written notice to the DPS&C of the investigation's findings and has recommended measures to address the issues.

"Today's findings demonstrate the Department of Justice's commitment to hold accountable institutions entrusted to protect the rights of all citizens, including people within the Louisiana Department of Corrections," said U.S. Attorney Duane Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

"Lawfully convicted people should not serve a day beyond their official designated release dates. Louisiana is wasting money on incarcerating people beyond their release dates and incurring legal expenses in defending lawsuits filed by the overdetained. We look forward to working with all affected parties to correct this problem."

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Gathe Jr. for the Middle District of Louisiana said that "while all government agencies operate under constraints," this is not an excuse for "violating the rights of people who have served their sentences and are ready to start their lives anew."

A lawsuit against the DPS&C could be initiated by the DOJ if the problem of overdetention in its prisons is not addressed.

Newsweek has contacted the DPS&C for comment.