BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana branch of the American Civil Liberties Union urged corrections officials to reduce the state’s jail and prison population in order to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.

In a news release Thursday, the ACLU said officials should expedite parole hearings for elderly prison inmates and immediately release those in jails awaiting trials who aren’t considered safety risks.

Their request came amid growing concern about the spread of the coronavirus in Louisiana.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said the number of people testing positive for the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus grew to 19 by Thursday afternoon, only three days after the state’s first case was reported.

Edwards declared a public health emergency Wednesday. On Thursday, the state corrections department suspended visitation at all state prisons for 30 days, while visitor access was limited at nursing homes and hospitals around Louisiana, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to vulnerable populations.

Advocates said standard hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing, aren’t possible in jails and prisons. Some inmates could have limited access to sinks and alcohol-based hand sanitizer is usually considered contraband.

Prisoner rights advocates argued that since the elderly and people with preexisting health conditions are at a higher risk of catching the virus, they shouldn’t be incarcerated during the outbreak, if at all possible.

Advocates said those in jail awaiting trial also shouldn’t be imprisoned if they don’t pose a risk to public safety, especially since sometimes those inmates are simply too poor to post bail.

The ACLU is also advocating for humanitarian parole release of all refugees and asylum-seekers being held in Louisiana. According to the organization, Louisiana holds the second-highest number of immigrant detainees in the U.S.

The corrections department didn’t immediately comment on the ACLU’s request.


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