Court finds that DOC violated Louisiana’s public records law by refusing to disclose documents

NEW ORLEANS – In response to a lawsuit by the ACLU of Louisiana, a district court judge has ordered the Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) to turn over all responsive records regarding its COVID-19 Furlough Review Panel – rejecting DOC’s claims that the records were exempt from the state’s public records law. Ruling in favor of the ACLU that DOC violated Louisiana’s Public Records Law, the court ordered DOC to pay a civil penalty of $3,650 as well as attorney’s fees and court costs.

“Openness and transparency are the very least we should expect from the government officials entrusted with our tax dollars, especially when it comes to life-and-death decisions amid a global pandemic,” said Alanah Odoms, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “With COVID-19 cases once again spiking across the state, it is imperative for DOC to take action to save lives and release people from these crowded and dangerous conditions. Public health experts agree that reducing prison populations is a life-saving measure that can help protect all our communities from the spread of COVID-19.”

“The people of Louisiana deserve answers about why vulnerable people serving time for low-level offenses were left to languish in life-threatening conditions,” said Bruce Hamilton, ACLU of Louisiana senior staff attorney. “We look forward to DOC turning over all records responsive to our request without delay, and we will continue to fight to hold them accountable for protecting the people in their custody from this deadly virus.” 

In May, the ACLU of Louisiana filed a public records request seeking additional information about the process and criteria of the Furlough Review Panel, which was intended to facilitate the temporary release of vulnerable people from state prisons amid COVID-19 but that ultimately released only 63 people. The Louisiana Department of Corrections asserted that the COVID-19 Furlough Review Panel was exempt from Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law and produced limited documentation in response. 

As of November 19, 2,428 incarcerated people have become infected with COVID-19 in Louisiana state prisons, and 30 people have died.