FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 16, 2020
NEW ORLEANS, La. – Today, The Promise of Justice Initiative and 19 other organizations sent an urgent message to Governor John Bel Edwards and department heads urging Louisiana to create an evidence based and proactive plan to prevent and manage the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, jails, juvenile facilities, and at probation and parole board hearings. As experts across the globe call for social distancing and isolation to prevent widespread infection and loss of life from the coronavirus, those housed or in the custody of the State of Louisiana remain at incredibly high risk during this massive public health crisis.
The letter explains, “Louisiana maintains the title of being the state with the highest incarceration in the country, in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world. With so many people, per capita, behind bars, Louisiana must take immediate and drastic action to protect incarcerated people from COVID-19. When—not if—the COVID-19 virus enters detention facilities, the virus will spread “like wildfire” due to close quarters, unsanitary conditions, a population that is more vulnerable to COVID-19, and the large number of people that cycle through the criminal justice system.”
Additionally, a comprehensive list of recommendations has been offered to Governor Edwards, the Department of Corrections (“DOC”), Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole, Louisiana Department of Health, and Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice. These include urgent pleas to educate DOC staff and people in their custody, immediate release of pre-trial individuals and those who pose no threat to the community, access to free hygiene supplies, access to communication with family members and legal counsel, and much more.
The Promise of Justice Initiative, along with the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, the Advocacy Center, the ACLU of Louisiana, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and attorney Jeffrey Dubner, represent more than 6,000 people incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola (“Angola”) in the federal class action lawsuit Lewis v. Cain, which was filed in the Middle District of Louisiana in May of 2015. In February of 2020, Chief Judge Shelly Dick indicated that she would find that the medical care at Angola is “unconstitutional in some respects.”
“The sad truth is that inaction now will undoubtedly lead to many many folks who are incarcerated suffering needlessly and at least some of them dying preventable deaths,” said Mercedes Montagnes, Executive Director of the Promise of Justice Initiative. “The responsible thing to do from a public health perspective is to take every effort now to prevent the spread into facilities and to reduce the number of people at risk. If we learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, we learned that inaction compounds dangerous conditions.”