New Orleans, La – On August 17th the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DOC) reported 1,003 cases of COVID-19 in Louisiana’s state prisons. Yesterday, less than a month later, that number has more than doubled to 2,042 positive cases of the virus. With these new numbers, a person incarcerated in DOC custody has gone from having a 126% higher chance of testing positive than the State’s rate to a 320% chance. Just three weeks ago, someone incarcerated in DOC’s prisons already had a 29% higher chance of dying from the virus than the rest of Louisiana. They now have a 66% higher chance of dying from COVID than those of us outside of prison walls.
About half of the people in DOC custody are held in local jails, which to date have released no consistent testing data. The numbers of cases in those facilities, and if testing is being conducted, is unknown. Incarcerated people, their loved ones, and advocates have been calling on DOC since March to take measures to stop the spread of COVID and protect the lives of those housed and employed in their facilities. A report released months ago by the Governor’s Health Equity Task Force outlined specific recommendations to address this crisis and to date directives from these experts have not been implemented.
Most recently the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice met to discuss the Furlough Review Panel that DOC implemented at the start of the pandemic. This was DOC’s main tactic for reducing the prison population to slow the spread of COVID-19. The panel reviewed only 600 cases, approving only 100 for release. Only 63 people were actually released. Since the ACJ committee hearing on September 2nd, there have been 433 new cases of COVID-19 and four more deaths reported. In Dixon Correctional Institute alone, COVID cases climbed from 168 on August 26th to 691 on September 11th.
As Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc continues to allow widespread outbreak in DOC facilities, staff and surrounding communities are affected as well. The rate of positive COVID tests is 247% higher for DOC staff than it is for the rest of the State. The DOC prison staff rate of death from COVID is 20% higher than the State’s.
Executive Director of the Promise of Justice Initiative, Mercedes Montagnes, said, “As we have been saying from the very beginning of this crisis, viruses cannot be contained by bars or fences. If counted together, the state’s incarcerated population would be our ninth-largest city and these continued outbreaks are beyond alarming. At this point, there has been ample time for DOC and State officials to implement measures inside detention facilities which would reduce the incarcerated population and prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the people who are housed or employed there. This failure of leadership puts us all at risk.”
Managing Attorney, Unanimous Juries Project