Defense attorney: DOC is demonstrating an epidemic of incompetence
BATON ROUGE- It happened again. The Louisiana Department of Corrections set an inmate free who still had time left to serve after a mistake the agency made calculating the offender's time.
The latest problem involves inmate Harold Ozenne. Ozenne was released on January 13, 2019 and was out for four days when the Department of Corrections (DOC) sent Probation and Parole to pick him back up on January 17, 2019, because he still had time left to serve.
Ozenne's family said the state's mistake was devastating.
"He was hurt," Shawn Andrus, Ozenne's nephew said. "He had been gone for a while."
Ozenne's family is trying to understand how this happened from an agency that set their loved one free.
"They need to get themselves together," Andrus said. "Y'all professionals...they shouldn't be making mistakes like that."
Attorney Franz Borghardt echoes the sentiments of Ozenne's family. Borghardt is currently representing a client who was released by the Department of Corrections, then picked back up after a mistake made.
"I think DOC is demonstrating an epidemic of incompetence that is not acceptable," Borghardt said. "We're talking about public safety. We're talking about the well-being of citizens."
Borghardt is representing Nikolas Marchiafava. The WBRZ Investigative Unit highlighted Marchiafava in prior reports when he was set free last year only to get picked back up saying a mistake was made and he still had time left to serve.
Marchiafava wasn't the only one. Benjieul Johnson, an inmate at DCI was also set free by mistake a few years ago. He was captured in Atlanta weeks later. Then, the state said they were instituting checklists and new procedures to prevent this from happening again.
But, the mistakes continued, last year with Marchiafava and just last month with Rosalind Richard. Richard was days away from being released. She mailed all of her belongings home only to be told DOC made an error and she still had time left to serve.
"The 'we're doing the best job that we can' just isn't good enough," Borghardt said.
In 2017, Corrections Secretary Jimmy Leblanc testified before lawmakers that the system they use to compute time is so complicated he doesn't even know how to do it and he leads the agency.
"I wish I could explain it to you but I can't," Leblanc said. "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."
Borghardt said for this to keep happening reforms are in order.
"It's one thing to have things slip through the cracks," Borghardt said. "It's another thing to have a crack the size of the Grand Canyon where you know it's happening and you do nothing to stop it."
Families of those affected believe the state needs to get its act together.
"That's too many mistakes," Andrus said. "They messing with people's lives like that."
Critics of the mistakes agree.
"It's unacceptable," Borghardt said. "They need to get their house in order. Honestly, they are begging for someone to get hurt as a result of this epidemic."
In January the Department of Corrections told WBRZ based on their stats, time is miscalculated for about 125 inmates per year.
Today the Department of Corrections released the following statement regarding their latest mistake:
"The Department of Public Safety and Corrections calculates offender’s time based on sentencing documentation provided by the parish of conviction. Harold Ozenne was sentenced and then resentenced for his crime on multiple occasions. The Department received documentation on his original sentence of five years and a resentence of 10 years, but was not provided the final re-sentencing of 20 years. He was released based on the 10-year sentence for which the Department had documentation.
The Department is currently reviewing this incident to determine why it was not provided the updated sentencing documentation. Based on the current information, disciplinary action is not warranted."