NEW ORLEANS – The ACLU of Louisiana this week urged law enforcement officials to take immediate action to stem the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) by reducing the number of people arrested and booked into jail and eliminating non-essential contact between first responders and the public. The recommendations, outlined in a letter addressed to law enforcement agencies, are consistent with the guidance coming from public health experts about the importance of preventing people from unnecessarily entering crowded jails and prisons where they are more susceptible to COVID-19.
While some parishes, including Ascension Parish, have taken action to reduce arrests, others – including New Orleans – have resisted taking stronger measures to stem the spread of the virus.
The ACLU of Louisiana requested swift action to:
- Cease arrests for any misdemeanor or felony that does not involve an imminent risk of violence.
- Issue summonses in lieu of arrest and booking for serious, but non-violent drug or property crimes. This would strike the appropriate balance between justifications for arrest and the overwhelming public health threat facing communities
“As public health experts continue to emphasize the life-saving importance of social distancing, local law enforcement agencies have a critical role to play in reducing overcrowding in our jails,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “Law enforcement officials should take any and all action they can to prevent individuals from unnecessarily entering the criminal legal system in the first place, and ensuring that prisons and jails do not needlessly keep people incarcerated who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. This is our best option to reduce the risk of harm, not just to individuals in these facilities, but the risk of harm to people in the public.”