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Edwards: Furloughs to be granted to some inmates

Posted at 8:55 AM, Apr 14, 2020

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced a plan today that will grant early release to state prisoners who are serving sentences for non-violent, non-sex crimes and have less than six months to go on their sentence.

Edwards said he will hold a press conference tomorrow at 4 p.m. with the acting state superintendent to discuss the plan for Louisiana schools for the remainder of the year. He said on Monday that he does not plan to allow students to return to campuses this year, but instead they'll attend school via distance learning.

Regarding the furloughs, DOC Secretary Jim Leblanc said public safety is paramount, especially when granting furloughs to prisoners. Leblanc said a panel will review inmates on a case-by-case basis until the emergency ends.

The total number of prisoners who would be eligible is about 1,200 people total, he said. Leblanc said state law gives him authority to grant the furloughs himself, but he felt it was better to create a panel to review the cases.

If released, the prisoners would need to stay home, with an ankle monitor, and submit to supervision, Leblanc said. The panel will look at two groups: prisoners in inmates in state prisons and prisoners in local jails. Prisoners would need to have a home to go to in order to be eligible, and meet other criteria, Leblanc said.

Edwards also addressed questions about when the stay-at-home order will end, and how normal life will resume. He said measures are being re-evaluated daily as data comes in.

However, he was clear: Things will not be as they were for a long time, he said.

"Social distancing is going to be a part of our lives for some time," he said. "Wearing masks is going to be part of our lives. Staying home when we are sick is going to be part of our lives. I suspect you're going to have your temperature taken more times than you've ever had it taken before."

Edwards said there may be occupancy limits on places where a lot of people usually congregate, like restaurants. Many things are being looked at, he said.

"We're looking at what's coming from the CDC, what other states are contemplating, there are a lot of decisions to be made," he said. "And a lot of those decisions will be out in the future. But I do make this commitment to the people of Louisiana: They are not going to find out on April 30 what happens on May 1."

Edwards said people will have several days notice of any changes.

Edwards started the presser with a comment on the grimest news: Louisiana's number of deaths has broken 1,000 today. He said more than 120 deaths were reported over the past 24 hours, although the majority actually died over the past three days.

"I hope the gravity of this resonates with everyone out there. We're not just talking about a number. Everyone of these numbers is a person, neighbor, friend, somebody's parent, somebody's child, I don't want that to be lost on anyone. These are our fellow Louisianians," he said.

Edwards said as of today, the models indicate that Louisiana's health care will not be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients over the next several weeks - but that's only because of compliance with the stay-at-home order, social distancing, hygiene, and the like.

"The decisions we make today are either going to have a positive impact on our state or a negative impact on our state, and the fact is we're not going to see it for another two weeks or so," Edwards said. "Think about not just yourself and your family, but think about those other individuals and families out there. Think about those 1,013 deaths that we're reporting. It's a tragic situation."

Edwards also said that Louisiana is number one in the nation in per-capita testing for the virus. He announced new testing locations in St. Charles and St. James parishes as well.

As for next steps, Edwards said we need to have more testing, contact tracing, as well as antibody testing. The data will tell us where we need to go and how quickly, he said.

"We don't want to go back to that place we've been trying to avoid," he said.

As he has done for the past week or so, Edwards answered questions submitted by citizens. One person from Shreveport wanted to know how he could help or volunteer. Edwards said he advises that people who want to help stay home and follow the mitigation measures. If you can, he said, he'd also ask people to donate to food banks, because people need food now.

A lady from Lafayette asked how COVID differs from the flu.

Edwards said there are some similarities, they're both viruses. But there are some real differences, and one is that COVID is much more contagious than the flu. The transmission rate is 1.3 people for the flu, he said. For COVID, a single infected person infects about 2.2 people. So it's twice as contagious. Also, the hospitalization rate for flu is 2 percent. For COVID, it's 19 to 20 percent. Fatality rate for flu is about .1 percent, and for COVID it's about 3 percent.

On Monday, Edwards was in north Louisiana to tour damage the area received during severe weather on Sunday, April 12.

The Governor held a press briefing following his tour where he announced that a proclamation would be issued today about the remainder of the school year.

Edwards said that students would not go back to school but would continue education through distance learning.

Read more on that press conference, here.

As of noon on April 14, the Louisiana Department of Health says there are now 21,518 confirmed cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the state. This includes 502 additional cases than were reported yesterday.

A total of 1,013 people have died of the disease in Louisiana. That is an increase of 129 deaths from Monday.

The Louisiana Department of Health updates the state's numbers each day at noon.

To see the latest statewide numbers from LDH, click here.