La. Department of Corrections creates COVID-19 panel to consider release of non-violent inmates

La. Department of Corrections creates COVID-19 panel to consider release of non-violent inmates
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The Secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DOC), James Le Blanc, announced April 14 he is working to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the state’s prisons by creating a special COVID-19 review panel.

Le Blanc says the review panel will consider certain non-violent/non-sex crime inmates who are within the last six months of their prison sentence for temporary furloughs as allowed for under state law.

The DOC secretary says these efforts are similar to the same actions being taken at the federal level based on the order from U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

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“We have worked hard to reduce the potential risk of COVID-19 throughout Louisiana prisons and jails,” Le Blanc said. “This additional endeavor will help further our efforts to protect staff and inmates in these facilities. Public safety is paramount when making a decision to furlough any inmate, which is why I have chosen to create this panel comprised of cross agency membership to evaluate each inmate for suitability.”

Le Blanc explains he is authorized by state law authorizes to grant temporary furlough to inmates who are within six months of their release date.

Members of the DOC’s COVID-19 Furlough Review Panel will be made up of:

  • Secretary of DOC, or designee
  • Director of Probation & Parole, or designee
  • Executive Director of Pardon & Parole Board, or designee
  • Victim’s Advocate, as appointed by the Governor
  • Executive Director of LA Sheriff’s Association, or designee
  • Executive Director of the LA District Attorney’s Association, or designee

The panel will review inmates on a rolling, case-by-case basis until the COVID-19 public health emergency declared by the Governor is terminated.

“At least a five out of six vote of approval is required for an inmate to be furloughed. Conditions of the furlough require home incarceration, ankle bracelet monitoring, and active supervision for the duration of the furlough. The temporary furlough terminates on the inmate’s assigned Good Time Parole Supervision release date, the date of release assigned by the Parole Board, or full-term release date, whichever is earlier, at which point the inmate will transition onto parole supervision. If the inmate reaches full-term release date, the sentence is completed and there is no parole supervision. These COVID-19 temporary furloughs will be done on an individual basis and not on a general group classification,” Le Blanc said.

The panel is tasked with reviewing two separate groups of DOC inmates:

Group 1 includes inmates currently housed in state prison facilities with pre-existing medical conditions that meet the following criteria:

  • Serving sentences for nonviolent/non-sex offenses.
  • Are currently within six months of their release date.
  • Have housing or residence ready to receive them.

Group 2 includes offenders who are mostly housed in local jails and meet the following criteria:

  • Serving sentences for nonviolent/non-sex offenses
  • Are currently within six months of their release date and have served at least six months.
  • Have housing or residence ready to receive them.

Probation and Parole may cancel an inmate’s temporary furlough at any time for any violation of conditions placed upon them and bring them back into custody to serve the remainder of time left until their release date:

  • If an inmate’s temporary furlough status is cancelled, he or she will be brought back into a DOC facility or will be placed in local facility.
  • DOC will track statistical data on the incidence of furlough violations by participating inmates. Violations shall include the commission of new offenses, as well as any transgressions that result in disciplinary action or removal from the program.

The COVID-19 Furlough Review Panel will sunset upon the expiration of Proclamation Number 41 JBE 2020, or any subsequent extension proclamation.

Prior to this, various district attorneys, judges, and sheriffs across the state agreed to adopt new practices that include:

  • Promoting summons for release in lieu of arrest in appropriate cases.
  • Immediate and expedited screening of new arrests.
  • Daily review of jail population for any accused who can be released on their own recognizance, pre-trial monitoring conditions, plea, or alternatives that would result in immediate release.
  • Conducting expedited hearings through expanded use of video conferencing with all necessary parties to maintain all constitutionally mandated hearings (230.1, bail reduction, Gwen’s Law hearings, emergency child removal cases, etc.).

Le Blanc says the Office of Probation and Parole has worked to reduce COVID-19 exposure in the state’s prison and jail facilities.

Probation officers have worked with the courts to remove detainers on individuals being held in jails across the state for supervision violations, reducing the number of people in the facilities. Le Blanc says officers have also implemented video check-in, in lieu of face-to-face visits with probationers and parolees.

For more information from the DOC, click here.

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