American Jails Are Locking People Up For Longer Than Necessary

Carol Nisar
A Justice Department report states that over 4,000 inmates have remained in prison longer than their sentences demanded. Critics say this is a low estimate.

us prison system

A rampant problem with the U.S. justice system is slowly coming to light. Across the country, there has been case after case of at least four thousand inmates being held in prison months past their scheduled release date.

Jermaine Hickman, a man from Minnesota, was wrongly imprisoned for 13 months longer than his original sentence of about five years, according to a New York Times report.

Convicted for a bank robbery, Hickman was released in 2014 when he was 33 and received $175,000 in reparations for the 13 months he was kept in jail.

“That’s lost time I’ll never get back, lost time with my kids and family, lost time that they never get back, as well,” Hickman said upon release.

The scandal surrounding Hickman’s time in jail created such a public stir that the Office of the Inspector General decided to lead an investigation looking into other cases like Hickman’s in which inmates are being kept behind bars for too long, seeing how often this occurs.

Similarly, last month, a man in Pennsylvania was released 17 months past his required service time, ABC News reported. Apparently, the inmate shared the same name with another inmate, leading to a clerical error.

Just last week, a similar occurrence happened in Anchorage, Alaska, with an inmate released from jail six months past his original release date due to clerical error, according to Alaska Dispatch News. The unnamed inmate cost the state of Alaska $23,000 for the extra six months spent in jail.

american jails

The resulting report from the U.S. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz revealed that staff errors caused 152 federal inmates to stay in prison longer than their scheduled release between the years of 2009 and 2014.

Three inmates served more than a year of extra time, as detailed by the report which was issued on Tuesday. One of these errors was caused by a federal prison official who did not check the inmate’s online court records. If it’s your job, keeping up with judge orders for shortened sentences seems like it would be a fairly simple thing to keep track of.

The majority of the overstayed inmates served an extra month or less of time. Overall, these errors cost the government about $1 million in incarceration costs and settling lawsuits with the ex-inmates.

The report also found that the reverse was true—five inmates were released before their scheduled release date. One inmate was released over a year before his scheduled time.

Criminal justice reform has long been a top priority on the Obama administration’s to-do list, but this report does little but attempt to dismiss the importance of human error in causing the problem of inmates overstaying their time in jail.


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Banner Image Credit: Reuters