New LA law prevents inmates from being released too soon or too late

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“I apologized to them because it was obviously a mistake that they released Mr. Matherne early,” Edwards said. “That shouldn’t have happened.”

NEW ORLEANS – BATON ROUGE – Chad Becnel’s worst day was more than 30 years ago when Brian Matherne, a trusted coach and teacher at Sacred Heart of Jesus Elementary School in Norco, sexually assaulted him .

Becnel said the second worst day of his life was last February, when he learned that Matherne had been released from prison in error, seven and a half years too soon.

But Tuesday was a much better day for Becnel. It was then that Governor John Bel Edwards met the Becnel family face to face at the State Capitol and apologized to them. He also acknowledged that the state Department of Corrections erred.

“I apologized to them because it was obviously a mistake that they released Mr. Matherne early,” Edwards said. “That shouldn’t have happened.”

Edwards also signed a new law that, along with the Becnels, hopes to improve the state process for notifying victims of violent or sexual crimes before their attackers are released from prison.

The Becnels contacted WWL-TV shortly after learning that Matherne had been released from prison and was living in Tangipahoa Parish.

Court records from February 2000 showed that Matherne was sentenced to 29 years, 11 months and 29 days – one day less than 30 years – expressly so that he would not be eligible for parole or early release for good behavior, or “good time”, but DOC said Matherne was granted a “good time release”.

WWL-TV asked the state DOC about Matherne’s release on February 28. He was re-arrested on March 2 and remanded to Rayburn Correctional Center until 2029. The DOC released a statement calling Matherne’s release on February 1 a “potential release in error.” and blaming it on the rarity of the judge’s refusal to grant a good time “under a nuanced law that existed at the time the offense was committed.”

State Rep. Greg Miller, R-Norco, quickly moved to sponsor a bill requiring the DOC to notify prosecutors and victims at least 60 days before release of inmates convicted of sex or violent crimes, by using email and SMS as well as Certified Mail. This is called the Becnel Survivors Notification Act.

Previously, victims had to be notified 10 days in advance by registered mail.

“It gives people time to prepare, but it also gives a whole bunch of eyes to make sure this (release) is appropriate,” Miller said.

Matherne’s inappropriate publication was far from an isolated mistake.

Louisiana Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said in 2017, the DOC required staff to manually track inmates’ release dates, resulting in more than 100 early or late releases each year.

“It’s against the law to release them early and it’s also against the law to release them late, and they’re doing their best, but frankly, in this case, it wasn’t good enough,” Edwards said.

The governor said LeBlanc is still working to improve the DOC’s computer system to better track inmate release dates. Becnel said he didn’t expect an apology from Edwards, but appreciated taking responsibility for the DOC’s error.

DOC spokesman Ken Pastorick said no department employee was disciplined for Matherne’s mistaken release. Becnel said he still wanted an apology from the DOC.

RELATED: Serial child molester mistakenly released, returned to jail after WWL-TV investigation

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