The state agency that oversees Louisiana's prisons has failed to properly track inmate release dates, a just-released legislative audit says.
The legislative audit report describes what auditors say is an inadequate review process of sentencing calculations conducted by the Department of Public Safety and Correction. Auditors say that has led to errors determining inmates’ good time status, parole eligibility and rehabilitation program credits — all factors in deciding an inmate's release date.
Prison reform advocates say the errors can lead to people serving more time than they're supposed to, disrupting their lives and costing taxpayers money.
Auditors found that five of 40 sentence computations it tested had inaccurate information, leading to incorrect release dates or parole eligibility classifications. Twenty-one of those tested lacked a reviewer signature or other notation that would show more than one person reviewed the calculation.
Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc said in a written response to the audit that the department is finalizing a procedure to have an experienced staff member conduct a second review of initial sentence computations and any changes to follow.
Ken Pastorick, a DOC spokesperson, said the department anticipates full implementation of this policy at all state prison facilities by the end of this year. He added that prior to discharge, every inmate’s time computation is recalculated and confirmed, as they may have earned additional credits over the period of their incarceration.
This latest critical report by auditors of the DOC’s inmate release date oversight echoes concerns from a 2017 audit.
The 2017 report on managing offender data criticized the department’s lack of consistent policies surrounding release date calculations and expressed concern that no supervisor was required to sign off on initial release date computations.
“An offender could be held too long if the release date was miscalculated and not caught until shortly before release,” the report stated. “This could result in the state paying more than it should have to incarcerate the offender.”
LeBlanc said in his response to the current audit that there's not enough supervisory staff to sign off on every computation, but a procedure established in 2018 requires supervisors to review 25 computations each month. Pastorick estimates more than 60,000 computations are processed each year.
Navigating the complexities of sentence calculations is extremely difficult, said Andrea Armstrong, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans.
“Once the sentence is ordered by the judge, then there are a number of different factors that can go into reducing the amount of time served before someone can be considered for parole, or even for outright release,” Armstrong said.
The type of crime, an individual’s criminal history and laws that have changed since an inmate’s conviction are among the factors that go into time calculations, Armstrong said.
Pastorick said that other measures, including probation or parole violations, straight credit, multiple or single sentence, split sentence, whether sentences are consecutive or concurrent and dates the offense occurred also go into the computation process, which is overseen by the DOC.
“I take DOC at its word,” Armstrong said. “They have no interest in holding people beyond their judicial sentence. It simply costs them more. But there’s a lot of different factors that go into play.”
In efforts to regulate this complex process, the DOC has implemented employee training for release calculation and created a booklet to guide staff through each step. After each legislative session, the department provides employees with updated information reflecting changes in legislation that impact computation.
“There are not enough resources,” Pastorick said. “We do a very good job with what we have, with the amount of resources we have, but it is a challenge when you’re talking about 60,000-plus (sentence computations) every single year.”
Jamila Johnson, an attorney with Louisiana-based criminal justice reform nonprofit the Promise of Justice Initiative, said inaccurate time calculations can disrupt the lives of those who are incarcerated, breeding more uncertainty as they prepare to reenter society.
“Returning home is a difficult process,” she said. “When time calculation dates are wrong, that massively interrupts the reentry process and makes it very difficult for people to restart their lives.”