NEW ORLEANS — The ACLU of Louisiana, the American Civil Liberties Union, and coalition partners today called for action to address the issue of overdetention of those convicted under Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) law - a statute that has disproportionately harmed LGBTQ+ people and women. In a letter addressed to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections (LDOC), the organizations are requesting DOJ and LDOC work together to further investigative work into overdetention in Louisiana, to release anyone currently held past their release date as a sole result of a CANS conviction, and to continue to ensure that no one is designated as a sex offender solely as a result of a CANS conviction.
“Louisiana has long engaged in extraordinarily harmful overdetention practices, eroding fundamental trust in the criminal legal system and violating the constitutional rights of our most vulnerable community members,” said ACLU of Louisiana staff attorney Meghan Matt. “We call on the DOJ to broaden the scope of their recent investigation to include anyone overdetained as a result of CANS convictions, and demand that LDOC discontinue these unconstitutional practices, which have a devastating effect on Louisianians.”
“The Louisiana legislature struck CANS from the list of registerable offenses more than a decade ago, and the state agreed to remove people with CANS convictions from its registry after that practice was ruled unconstitutional, ”said Alexis Agathocleous, deputy director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, who represented the plaintiffs in Doe v. Jindal and Doe v. Caldwell, twin federal lawsuits that successfully challenged the CANS registration requirement. “These reforms were the result of tireless advocacy led by community activists and those harmed by this law. The fact that anyone convicted under CANS should be held in prison beyond their release date flies in the face of the Court’s ruling and the law as it stands today.”
Numerous people with CANS convictions have been held in prison beyond their release date, based on the mistaken belief that they are subject to heightened release requirements. Until a decade ago, Louisiana’s CANS law made offering certain sexual acts for money a felony, with penalties including up to five years in prison, hard labor, and mandatory registration on the sex offender database. These harsh penalties never applied to the state’s prostitution law and were specifically designed to target LGBTQ+ people. The legislature has since equalized all penalties between CANS and prostitution, and eliminated the requirement that people convicted of CANS be designated as sex offenders after a federal court struck down the registration requirement as unconstitutional.
In 1992, Louisiana made CANS a registerable sex offense, and by 2011, more than 40 percent of people on the New Orleans sex offender registry were registered solely due to CANS. Of those, 75% were women, and 79% were Black. According to the letter, LDOC has ignored both the decade-old legal rulings striking down sex offender registration requirements resulting from CANS convictions, and the legislature’s elimination of the registration requirement, which has resulted in persistent overdetention practices. The letter also names 32 individuals with suspected CANS convictions who were detained past their release dates due to this practice.
“CANS is a law that has impacted the lives of so many people in my community. For me, being treated as a sex offender was like walking around in shackles,” said Wendi Cooper, Executive Director of TRANScending Women and CANScantSTAND campaign founder. “I'm horrified that LDOC is still illegally treating people convicted of CANS in this way. This injustice must end."
In a report released in January 2023, the DOJ found that LDOC was “deliberately indifferent to the systemic overdetention of people in its custody,” regularly violating the constitution by holding people past their release dates. The report also concluded that the state has been aware of the problem for at least a decade, and has done little to address it.
“In the course of my years reporting on Louisiana’s CANS law, I was shocked to find that LDOC has continued to classify people with CANS convictions as sex offenders and subject them to onerous release requirements, despite a federal court ruling more than a decade ago that such treatment is unconstitutional. This finding demands policy change and accountability for those impacted and underscores the need for transparency in record-keeping by criminal justice agencies,” said Matt Nadel, investigative journalist and director of “CANS Can’t Stand,” a documentary from The New Yorker highlighting the fight against CANS and efforts to build community for trans women in New Orleans.
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