BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Few Louisiana prisoners have been released through the furlough program that state officials developed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Louisiana Department of Corrections created a review panel in April tasked with considering up to 1,100 state prison inmates for temporary release. The program was meant to reduce the prison population, which would increase opportunities for social distancing and mitigate the spread of coronavirus behind bars.
But The Advocate reports the panel reviewed fewer than 600 cases before being suspended earlier this month, and corrections officials said just 100 people were approved.
Only 63 of those will be released, corrections department spokesman Ken Pastorick said. That’s because of complicating factors such as outstanding warrants or deficient housing plans — or because the inmates “were not agreeable to the conditions of the release, which included ankle monitoring and house arrest,” he said.
Public health experts and prisoner rights advocates recommended significantly reducing the prison population to lessen the risks of coronavirus infections in tightly packed prison spaces.
Louisiana has the nation’s highest incarceration rate, with a state prison population of about 32,000 people. The 63 approved releases represent about 0.2% of them.
Officials have provided no explanation of the furlough panel’s decision-making, and the meetings weren’t open to the public. From the beginning, advocates criticized the plan for its limited scope while noting other states have taken more decisive action to reduce their prison populations.
Corrections officials said the furlough review panel was suspended June 5 when Louisiana widened its reopening. Pastorick said it “may reconvene if there is an unexpected uptick in the number of cases within our prison population.”
Sixteen inmates at Louisiana’s state prisons have died from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, according to corrections department data.