The problem crops up sporadically in other states, including neighboring Mississippi, and in the federal Bureau of Prisons. New York City recently agreed to pay out as much as $300 million to thousands of current and former inmates at local jails who had been kept hours or a few days after they were supposed to be released. But those waiting times are relatively short compared with what prisoners in Louisiana endure.
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The state routinely sends prisoners with sentences under 20 years (and those with serious physical or mental conditions) to jails or prisons run by governments in local parishes, which are the equivalent of county governments elsewhere. That means parish prisons serve not only as traditional jails, but also as officially designated extensions of the state prison system.
It is a jumbled and sluggish system with tangled lines of communication and jurisdiction — and many of the prisoners who have been kept past their release dates fell into the chasm between dysfunctional state and parish bureaucracies.
A judge freed Brian Humphrey from the jail in Bossier Parish in northwest Louisiana on April 16, 2019, after he had served three years for an offense related to assault. He prepared to leave that night. Instead, he languished.
The corrections department, for reasons that remain unclear, waited 10 days to even begin processing his paperwork, according to records obtained in a 2021 class-action lawsuit his lawyers filed against the state. Instead of freeing Mr. Humphrey, as he was legally bound to do, the parish sheriff transferred him to a state-run work camp outside Shreveport, where he stayed until he was released on May 13, 2019.
That was 27 days beyond his release date.
Louisiana has one of the most overcrowded prison systems in the country, yet parish sheriffs are often reluctant to release people they believe are at high risk of committing new crimes. Some even view inmates housed in local facilities as worth holding onto as free labor.
In October 2017, Sheriff Steve Prator of Caddo Parish, which includes Shreveport, told reporters he was concerned that a recent criminal justice effort in the state was bad for parish governments. Not only would it result in higher crime rates among the “bad” former prisoners, but it would also deprive his staff of free labor provided by the “good ones.”