Louisiana Record

Saturday, September 21, 2019

State's 'under-resourced public defenders' exacerbates over-detention crisis in jails, says attorney

Lawsuits

By Carrie Bradon | Feb 23, 2019


| Courtesy of Unsplash

A number of civil rights lawsuits have been filed against the Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) and various sheriff's offices, alleging that prisons in the state of Louisiana routinely keep inmates after their release dates. 

According to Nola.com, individual cases vary significantly but attorneys claim that it is not uncommon for individuals to be jailed for weeks or months past their release dates, with some extreme cases of inmates' actual releases occurring years later than they should have. The reason for the discrepancies, the DOC claims, has to do with inconsistent calculation methods the department alleges can cause two vastly different release dates.

Attorneys who are representing the over-detained inmates, however, are not satisfied with these claims. Stanislav Moroz, a New Orleans public defender, spoke with Louisiana Record about this ongoing unjustice.

"This is not a new problem; it has been happening for years," Moroz said in an interview. "Unfortunately, because most people in jail are poor and come from marginalized communities, this issue has been overlooked for far too long. We try to advocate for our clients held in jail past their release dates, but there are many people in jails and prisons who do not have attorneys to advocate for them. This problem is exacerbated because public defenders across the state are under-resourced."

Moroz said that paperwork and computer errors may in fact be to blame for at least some of the overdue release dates, but whatever the actual cause, the current system needs to be reworked.

"We regularly have clients, both in the local jail and in prisons across the state, incarcerated after they have already completed their sentences," Moroz said. "Sometimes this happens because of the inefficient structure in place for calculating peoples’ release dates."

One current data system being used to calculate release dates is the Criminal and Justice Unified Network — CAJUN — which has been used since the 1980s. The system, however, is fraught with inaccuracies that the lawyers behind the complaints believe are at the root of the problem. Regardless of the actual cause, Moroz said, over-detaining prisoners who have served their time is a violation of their rights as human beings.

"Keeping people in jail longer than their sentences, especially at a time when there is a consensus that Louisiana imprisons too many of its citizens, is simply not right," Moroz said. "It disrupts our clients’ lives, pulls them away from their families, causes them to lose their jobs, inhibits re-entry efforts and contributes to mental health issues.

"We believe that there are relatively simple solutions to this problem at both the legislative and administrative level," Moroz added.

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Organizations in this Story

Louisiana Department of Corrections Louisiana Public Defender Board

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