New Orleans Judges order jail releases of detainees due to coronavirus threat

Per Huffpost, judges from the Orleans Parish Criminal Court ordered the release from jail of some pretrial defendants and low-level offenders in an effort to mitigate the risk of coronavirus.

The judges’ Wednesday order requires the sheriff’s office to “immediately release” people who who are in jail because they are awaiting trial for a misdemeanor offense, they were arrested for failing to appear at a probation status hearing, they are being held in contempt of court or they failed a drug screening after being released on bond.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro initially opposed efforts to reduce the jail population but said Thursday that he approves of the judges’ order.

4WWL reports Orleans Parish Criminal Court judges have ordered the release of some lower level offenders and pre-trial defendants from the city’s prison facility due to the threat of the coronavirus.

The order was issued in response to a motion by the Orleans Public Defenders Office to accelerate a piecemeal process of releasing inmates due to the risk inside the jail. The sheriff’s office said five employees tested positive for the virus and 13 more are awaiting test results. Another four employees of the jail’s private health care provider also tested positive.

OPD’s motion was boosted by a community letter-writing campaign by the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition and an open letter from professors and physicians from Tulane’s School of Public Health and the School of Medicine.

While the effects of the order will play out in the coming days, the virus fears have led to a much higher-than-normal pace of jail releases, bringing the jail’s population to just over 900 inmates, the lowest level since Hurricane Katrina forced a total evacuation.

Deputy Chief Judge Robin D. Pittman signed the order that called for the release from custody of:

– People arrested for failure to appear on probation status

– People in jail prior to trial for misdemeanors

– People in jail for contempt of court

– Defendants remanded for positive drug tests and who have a bond in effect