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Another mistake highlights state's complex process calculating prison time for offenders

5 years 1 month 4 weeks ago Wednesday, December 26 2018 Dec 26, 2018 December 26, 2018 4:00 PM December 26, 2018 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE- Another mistake by the Department of Corrections nearly set a woman who was sentenced as a habitual offender free. It left her family devastated and those familiar with the process demanding reforms.

Rosalind Richard was so close to freedom she could practically taste it. Documents obtained by the WBRZ Investigative Unit indicate she was scheduled to be released three weeks ago on December 1. She was incarcerated for 20 years for non-violent offenses but was sentenced as a habitual offender on theft charges.

"The day before she was to be released, they said they were adding 12 years to her sentence and they made a mistake," Richard's niece, Latricia Banks said.

The latest case raises questions with the complex way the Department of Corrections calculates time for prisoners. In fact, Secretary Jimmy Leblanc testified before a committee at the capitol last year that he didn't even know how to do it.

"I wish I could explain it to you but I can't," Leblanc told lawmakers. "It's very difficult. I have a program audit going on now with the legislature criticizing us for how complicated it is and why don't we have an automated system. We are in the process of putting together a response to that."

Last year in a similar case, Nickolos Marchiafava was set free under the state's criminal justice reform measures. However, he was picked back up days later saying he was released by "mistake." Lawyer Franz Borghardt is representing Marchiafava in a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections. 

"It's like watching a little kid count using their fingers," Borghardt said. "You hope they get it right, You want them to get it right... but who knows?"

Borghardt said the complicated way of doing things is ultimately costing taxpayers money as lawsuits get filed.

"It's really about accountability and DOC looking at somebody and saying we don't know what we're doing," Borghardt said. "That's scary. Can you imagine going to a doctor's office and seeking treatment and shrugging their shoulders saying I don't know what I'm doing? Without some type of accountability, it's only going to get worse."

Banks echoes those sentiments as her aunt is the most recent person to suffer from incorrect calculations. 

"Your system needs a complete overhaul," Banks said. "No one should have to go through what we went through in the last few months."

The Department of Corrections responded with this statement:

The Department of Public Safety and Corrections has improved its time calculations. We currently provide additional training and supervision for employees responsible for time computation, and have continually updated training manuals to keep up with current laws. In addition, earlier this year, the Louisiana Felony Class Task Force, at the direction of ACT 281 of the 2017 Legislature, which was part of the Criminal Justice Reforms, created recommendations to the Legislature on the creation of a felony class system which would have simplified sentencing and time calculation. However, it was never introduced into legislation.

On average, the Department releases 16,000 offenders each year, and checks time computation on each of these offenders prior to their release. In addition, the Department also calculates time on each prison admission. In total, the time of 50,000 offenders is calculated each year, with an error rate of less than approximately 1/4 of 1 percent. In the instance of Rosalind Richard, the pre-release time computation was successful in revealing an error in the original time computation done in the year 2,000. The check determined Richard’s release date to be October 25, 2022. Richard’s case is the reason we check time prior to the release of an offender.

Based on the 50,000 statistic, an error rate of 1/4 of 1 percent would mean about 125 inmates are getting their time calculations computed incorrectly each year.

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