DOC Releases Documents on Secretive COVID-19 Review Panel But Declines to Produce Details on Deliberations

Lawsuit from the ACLU of Louisiana seeks information on why low-risk individuals were denied release amid COVID-19

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
August 21, 2020 3:00 pm

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NEW ORLEANS – In response to a lawsuit from the ACLU of Louisiana, the Louisiana Department of Corrections provided some additional documentation but declined to produce details on the deliberations about a secretive state panel that was intended to facilitate the temporary release of vulnerable people from state prisons amid COVID-19.

At a court hearing today, the ACLU of Louisiana asserted that further transparency was needed, including around the way the panel applied its criteria and its internal deliberations.

“DOC’s inexcusable failure to release vulnerable and low-risk individuals amid COVID-19 continues to put human lives and public health at risk,” said Bruce Hamilton, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Louisiana. “As we told the court today, the public deserves to know how this secretive panel deliberated – and why the panel denied, behind closed doors, the temporary release of demonstrably low-risk, vulnerable people whose lives were at imminent risk during a pandemic.”

The documents released in response to the lawsuit include letters from DOC to the extremely limited number of people granted furlough, a vote sheet tallying the votes of panel members, its meeting dates, and the regulation promulgated in April creating the panel.

In April, as public health experts warned that prisons would become powderkegs for COVID-19, the Louisiana Department of Corrections created a Furlough Review Panel with the stated purpose of reducing the prison population in order to protect public health. The panel was tasked with considering 1,100 people who were imprisoned for low-level offenses and within six months of their scheduled release. But three months later, reporting by The Advocate found that the panel examined fewer than 600 of those cases and approved 100 for release, and only 63 were expected to be released.

The ACLU of Louisiana filed a public records request in May seeking additional information about the process and criteria of the review process, as well as meeting agendas, minutes, and notes, and the names of panel members. The Louisiana Department of Corrections has asserted that the COVID-19 Furlough Review Panel is exempt from Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law.

More information on the case, and the documents provided by DOC are available here:

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