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ACLU of Louisiana Sues for COVID-19 Prison Release Panel Documents

Lafayette man sentenced to prison for stealing $2M from investors
Posted at 1:11 PM, Aug 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-10 20:40:14-04

UPDATE: Here's the response from the Department of Corrections:

The Department has worked well with the ACLU in the past, and we are fully committed to providing the documents responsive to their request. However, we are disappointed that they chose to file a lawsuit in this matter at this point, considering they were told the documents would be available on or before August 21, 2020, and that we are in the midst of responding to the world’s worst pandemic in a century.

Here's the original story:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana has sued the state over records of a board that was set up to decide if inmates should be released early from prison because of COVID-19.

"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 180 days 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," a statement from the organization reads.

“The numbers confirm that this secretive panel was a sham – and now state officials are adding insult to injury by stonewalling our attempts to find out why,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “For months, Louisiana officials have ignored the warnings of public health experts and allowed rampant outbreaks to ravage our prison system. These were taxpayer dollars at work, and the people of Louisiana deserve to know why the panel denied, by fiat and behind closed doors, the temporary release of demonstrably low-risk, vulnerable people during a pandemic.”

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

Here's a link to the petition, which the ACLU says it is filing today in East Baton Rouge Parish district court: https://www.laaclu.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/200810_kaiser_v_myer_petition_and_order.pdf

We've reached out to the DOC to see if they have a response or comment on the suit.