NEW ORLEANS—For over a decade, Louisiana’s prison system has regularly held inmates past their release dates. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice found that the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections has been violating the constitutional rights of people in its custody. But holding the long-time head of the system, James LeBlanc, responsible for violations of the U.S. Constitution may be nearly impossible depending on the outcome of a case being considered by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Percy Taylor served 525 extra days in a Louisiana prison. Although he realized his release date had been incorrectly calculated and alerted prison officials, they stuck fast to the wrong date. Long after the time he should have been free, Percy won a court order agreeing with him on the release date. Even with this order in hand, it took another month before Percy was freed.
After he was finally released, Percy sued two prison officials and LeBlanc. The district court denied all three men qualified immunity on some of the claims but LeBlanc appealed to the 5th Circuit. The Institute for Justice (IJ) has taken on Percy’s case at the appeals court and filed its first brief late yesterday.
“I lost a precious a year and a half of freedom because Louisiana’s prison officials refused to hear what I had to say about them miscalculating my release date,” said Percy. “I deserve justice but I also want the system to finally get fixed so that this doesn’t happen to anyone else. It’s wrong to keep people who paid their debt to society locked up and the ones in charge need to be held responsible.”
“Despite running a prison system the Department of Justice called ‘deliberately indifferent to overdetention,’ the courts may let James LeBlanc escape accountability,” said IJ Attorney Anya Bidwell. “What happened to Percy has happened to tens of thousands of inmates over many years. When the system fails, and the guy in charge does nothing about it for at least a decade, the buck has to stop with the person at the top.”
IJ’s Project on Immunity and Accountability is devoted to a simple idea: If we the people must follow the law, our government must follow the Constitution. Recently, IJ successfully argued at the 8th Circuit that a New Mexico court had improperly granted qualified immunity to an officer who assaulted a driver for no reason. IJ was also successful in overcoming qualified immunity in a lawsuit on behalf of a citizen journalist in Texas who was arrested for his reporting.