NEW ORLEANS – In the wake of Louisiana’s first confirmed cases of coronavirus, the ACLU of Louisiana today called for expedited parole hearings for elderly people in state prisons and the release of all people jailed awaiting charges and trial who are not considered a risk to public safety.
“Given the CDC’s warnings about avoiding confined spaces and the threat COVID-19 poses to the frail and elderly, immediate steps must be taken to safeguard the health and well-being of incarcerated people across the state,” Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “We know that confining people in close quarters increases the risk of infection, but right now thousands of Louisianans are incarcerated based on the mere accusation of a crime and an inability to pay bail. In the interests of public health, we’re calling for expedited parole hearings for the elderly in state prisons and for the immediate release of people who are being jailed pretrial based solely on their inability to pay bail. We look forward to working with state, federal, and local officials to ensure the health and well-being of all people under correctional control in our state.”
The organization also called for the immediate release on humanitarian parole of all refugees and asylum-seekers being held in Louisiana. Louisiana now holds the second highest number of immigrant detainees in the U.S., many of whom are being held in private prisons in remote locations and have been denied an opportunity to be granted humanitarian parole.
“This public health crisis also poses a significant risk to thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers who are being warehoused in brutal conditions across Louisiana,” said Odoms Hebert. “Seeking asylum is a legal right, and federal and state officials have an obligation to protect the health of people fleeing violence and persecution to seek refuge in this country.”
In its latest guidance, the Centers for Disease Control is urging older adults and those with underlying health issues to “avoid situations that put them at increased risk for more severe disease,” including “avoiding crowded places” such as cruise ships.