The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections is launching a new program to reduce the state’s prison population to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The state’s COVID-19 Furlough Review Panel will identify inmates to be released from prison who have not been convicted of violent or sexual crimes who have chronic health conditions and/or are within six months of their scheduled release. The inmates would be subject to supervised home confinement. Meaning, in order to be released they must have a residence available to go to.
“Public safety obviously is paramount to everything we do,” corrections department Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said.
Members of the panel include LeBlanc or a designee, a representative of the probation and parole department, a representative from the pardon and parole board, a sheriff, a district attorney, and an advocate for crime victims designated by Gov. John Bel Edwards. In order for an inmate to be released five of the six members must approve the early release.
Inmates from 1,200 state prison and local jails are eligible, LeBlanc said. The first review panel meeting is planned for Friday, April 17, at which the cases of 40 inmates will be reviewed. The panel will then meet two or three times a week, LeBlanc says.
The ACLU recently sued the Federal Bureau of Prisons over releasing inmates at high risk of contracting COVID-19 from Oakdale Federal Detention Centers. Three Republican congressmen also raised concerns about the Oakdale facility: Bill Cassidy, MD, John Kennedy, and Mike Johnson.
Louisiana’s corrections department is also facing a lawsuit over prisoners who are being quarantined at Camp J, or Angola. Normally, Angola has been used for prisoners serving life sentences.
“Moving sick people from around the state to a facility with no ventilators, no doctors, and a long way from adequate hospitals is wrong and will result in a public health disaster,” argues Mercedes Montagnes, executive director of The Promise of Justice Initiative, which is representing prisoners facing transfer.