Louisiana Chief Justice calls on jails, prisons to reduce populations during COVID-19 crisis

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BERNETTE JOSHUA JOHNSON

NEW ORLEANS, La. (KLFY) — Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson sent a memo to state judges earlier today calling for them to thin the populations in Louisiana’s jails and prisons where possible to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks.

“Louisiana has a significantly higher-than-average parish jail population,” stated Johnson. “An outbreak of COVID-19 in our jails would be potentially catastrophic for jail staff, the families of jail staff, and inmates.”

Johnson called for judges, prosecutors, public defenders and sheriffs to work together to conduct a “comprehensive and heightened risk-based assessment of all detainees…” Those who have been convicted of felony offenses and have been remanded to the Department of Corrections will not be eligible.

She provided the following guidelines for release:

  1. For those charged with misdemeanor crimes, other than domestic abuse battery, favor a nominal bail amount, or a release on recognizance order – with, of course, a notice to appear on a future date;
  2. For those convicted of a misdemeanor crime, consider modification to a release and supervised probation or simply time-served;
  3. For those charged with a non-violent offense, consider a reduced bail obligation or a release on recognizance order with, of course, a notice to appear on a future date;
  4. For those charged in other criminal matters, re-examine the nature of the offense and criminal history, if any, to determine if any bail revisions are appropriate;
  5. Where the Department of Probation and Parole requests a revocation of probation and it is within your discretion to revoke, please confer with Probation and Parole to determine whether there is an alternative to detention, especially with technical violations;
  6. For those being held due to an outstanding warrant “hold” from another judicial district or jurisdiction, please request prosecutors and a designated sheriff’s deputy promptly communicate with that jurisdiction to determine whether the underlying reason for the hold is sufficiently minor (e.g., a minor traffic offense, failure to pay money obligations, failure to return a rental movie) such that release can be effected or whether the detainee can be immediately transferred;
  7. Please suggest to law enforcement that, whenever practicable, they issue summons and citations on misdemeanor crimes and non-violent offenses in lieu of arrest, with a notice to appear on a future date.

You can download and read the entire memo below:

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