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DOC creates COVID-19 review panel to furlough eligible inmates in Louisiana's jails and prisons

5 months 1 week 1 day ago Tuesday, April 14 2020 Apr 14, 2020 April 14, 2020 3:03 PM April 14, 2020 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE, La. – The Department of Corrections Secretary James Le Blanc announced Tuesday that he is working with local and state law enforcement partners on an additional measure to safely reduce the potential risk of COVID-19 in Louisiana’s prisons and jails. 

Specifically, the Department of Corrections has created the COVID-19 Furlough Review Panel to consider certain nonviolent/non-sex inmates, who are within the last six months of their prison sentence, for temporary furloughs as allowed for under state law. These efforts mirror the same actions being taken at the federal level based on the order from U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

The Department of Corrections, Probation and Parole, the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, and Louisiana courts have proactively implemented measures to help reduce the spread of the virus throughout the criminal justice system. 

The creation of the COVID-19 Furlough Review Panel is an extension of these efforts and is a mechanism to safely reduce the inmate population in a way that maintains public safety and promotes public health.

“We have worked hard to reduce the potential risk of COVID-19 throughout Louisiana prisons and jails,” Secretary James Le Blanc said, Department of Public Safety and Corrections. “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.”

State law authorizes the DOC Secretary to grant temporary furlough to inmates who are within six months of their release date and to add eligibility/suitability criteria and delineate a process and conditions for temporary furloughs.

In collaboration with stakeholders, the Secretary has established the COVID-19 Furlough Review Panel, which is comprised of:

  1. Secretary of DOC, or designee
  2. Director of Probation & Parole, or designee
  3. Executive Director of Pardon & Parole Board, or designee
  4. Victim’s Advocate, as appointed by the Governor
  5. Executive Director of LA Sheriff’s Association, or designee
  6. Executive Director of the LA District Attorney’s Association, or designee

The COVID-19 Furlough Review Panel will review inmates on a rolling, case-by-case basis until the public health emergency declared by the Governor is terminated. At least five out of six votes of approval are 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 a 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. 

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:

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

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

  1. Serving sentences for nonviolent/non-sex offenses
  2. Are currently within six months of their release date and have served at least six months.
  3. 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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.

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

  1. Promoting summons for release in lieu of arrest in appropriate cases.
  2. Immediate and expedited screening of new arrests.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.).

The Office of Probation and Parole has also collaborated with the same criminal justice partners to help reduce COVID-19 exposure in our state and local 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. They have also implemented video check-in, in lieu of face-to-face visits with probationers and parolees.

Stay informed on decisions affecting the state's prisons by visiting the Department's website at doc.la.gov.

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