Man files lawsuit alleging La. DOC detains inmates past release dates

The lawsuit comes several months after the DOJ opened a statewide civil investigation into release practices at DOC facilities


By Jacqueline Derobertis
The Advocate

COVINGTON, La. — A formerly incarcerated man has filed a lawsuit arguing that the Louisiana Department of Corrections regularly and knowingly imprisons people past their release dates — a practice the department has been aware of for the better part of a decade.

This is the second such lawsuit filed on the subject, coming several months after the Department of Justice opened a statewide civil investigation into release practices at DOC facilities.

Ken Pastorick, DOC spokesperson, said in a statement that the lawsuit's allegations
Ken Pastorick, DOC spokesperson, said in a statement that the lawsuit's allegations "are completely without merit." (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

Joel Giroir, 36, was imprisoned at the St. Tammany Parish Jail when he filed the lawsuit, in which he seeks to represent other inmates in the same situation. He claims he should have been released on Jan. 26 because "he had already served at least 64 days" past his sentence.

The lawsuit, filed in Baton Rouge federal court, says DOC Secretary James LeBlanc acknowledged in a deposition that the department's detaining people beyond their release dates is a "big problem," but has failed to make meaningful changes to the process that continues to deny people their freedom.

Ken Pastorick, DOC spokesperson, said in a statement that the lawsuit's allegations "are completely without merit." The current state code "makes time computation a very complex process" that requires cooperation among multiple government agencies in the criminal justice system.

"We're always working to improve the sentence time computation process," he said. "The DOC takes this very seriously, and has proactively taken steps to improve...including streamlining the overall structure within DOC and strongly advocating for legislative changes to simplify Louisiana's complicated sentencing statutes with a felony class system."

Giroir seeks to represent all people who have been or will be impacted by DOC release procedures that detain them beyond their sentences. The lawsuit was filed by the Promise of Justice Initiative, Most & Associates and Chicago-based law firm Loevy & Loevy.

DOC officials have known since a 2012 internal investigation that the agency imprisons "over 2,000 people each year" past their release dates, the lawsuit alleges. Other reports from 2017 and 2019 have reiterated the department's ongoing crisis.

Apart from the legal ramifications of over-detention, the DOC estimated in a 2019 grant application that "housing alone costs the state an extra $2.8M per year," according to the lawsuit.

In addition to not keeping a record or count of the people who are serving longer than their sentence — other than through specific investigations — the lawsuit says the release date time calculation process involves a convoluted system for transferring paperwork from one agency to another, often requiring records to be physically driven across the state for hand delivery.

Many of Louisiana's inmates, like Giroir, are also housed in local jails or private prisons, which means DOC officials must rely on parish-by-parish cooperation to gather the necessary paperwork.

This process has yet to be significantly improved upon, the lawsuit says, and no one has been held accountable for past failures.

" Louisiana's overdetention problem is uniquely severe," said Stephen Weil of Loevy & Loevy. "We aren't aware of any other state that struggles with time calculation at this level, but the DOC seems content to impose punishment no court ever ordered, simply because it can't be bothered to fix this glaring problem."

After he filed the lawsuit Feb. 19, a Friday, Giroir was released from DOC custody the following Monday, his attorney said.

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(c)2021 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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