Monday, February 18, 2019

How they throw away the key

If you go to jail in Louisiana, don't get too attached to the idea that, at the end of your sentence, they're actually going to let you out. Technically, they're supposed to but, you know, there's so much paperwork.
In 2005, a federal district court judge in Atlanta wrote she had been “unable to find any case... in which the detainment of a properly identified individual for days beyond his scheduled release date was held constitutionally permissible.”

That judge, Julie E. Carnes, who is now the Senior U.S. Circuit Judge in the 11th Circuit’s Court of Appeal, made the statement as part of a ruling on litigation by jailed people in Atlanta who sued a sheriff and the State of Georgia. The plaintiffs in that case had been overdetained by an average 3.9 days, court records show.

Despite those rulings, the Louisiana Department of Corrections appears to give itself in many cases anywhere from a few weeks to several months to process and release inmates. When New Orleans public defender Stanislav Moroz contacted the sheriff’s office to ask why Traweek was still in jail seven days after he was sentenced to time-served, OPSO employee Monique Filmore wrote back, “First of all Johnny Traweek was just sentenced on 5/2/18 so his paperwork has not went up yet.”

When Moroz checked in with OPSO five days later, Filmore reasponded, “He can’t get released until DOC sends him a release. The whole process takes about 2 weeks. He has to wait!!!!”

Meanwhile, an outgoing message on a DOC hotline states that “it takes at least 90 days after sentencing” for the department to calculate how much time a person must serve of their sentence. Only after this step is completed will DOC issue an official release date.
And that's "time served" can end up leaving you in jail for weeks or months. Some of the cases in this article end up tacking on years when the Sheriff and the Department of Corrections apply the Sewerage and Water Board billing system to calculating release dates.
A 2017 state auditor’s report on how DOC manages inmate data blasted the department as being incapable of calculating in an accurate and consistent manner how much time people should spend in prison and when they should be released.

For example, the auditor asked two DOC staffers to “calculate release dates on the same offender, and each used a different method. The two results differed by 186 days.” That would be a difference of about six months more in prison.

The haphazard manner in which DOC calculates time is one of the main drivers of overdetention and has resulted in multiple lawsuits, two of which the department recently settled for a total $250,000, records show. 
And this sort of thing happens all the time, apparently. Sure leaving people who have already served their sentences to sit indefinitely in dungeons is inhumane, expensive, and unconstitutional. But you gotta understand, not doing it is hard work.

In DOC’s official response to the legislative audit, Secretary James LeBlanc defended his staff, writing that the calculation of releases dates is a “very complex and ever changing” process that considers up to 20 different criteria. It is complicated even further, he said, by the Legislature passing new laws every year – such as 2017’s historic criminal justice reform package – which drastically alter the sentencing guidelines.

“Training for this job is ongoing and takes time to truly understand the intricacies of how each case is handled,” LeBlanc wrote. “Time computation staff are expected to know all laws, old and new.”

That same staff consists largely of people in entry-level jobs who collectively work on an average of 4,213 files per month, according to DOC. The staff’s turnover rate in 2017 was 33 percent. It dropped to an still-high 21 percent last year.
I suppose you could mitigate some of this instability by hiring more staff and paying solid wages and benefits but that's just crazy talk. Much better to waste that money housing prisoners at $54.20 per day per inmate for months and years longer than necessary.

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