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    Chief Justice Johnson issues guidance to reduce prison population, increase public safety during COVID-19

    Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson issued guidance to Louisiana District Judges on Thursday, April 2, urging to them conduct a comprehensive review to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and release incarcerated people under certain circumstances. The letter comes after a week of evolving news developments about COVID-19 positive cases in state corrections facilities.

    The Louisiana Department of Corrections has reported that 14 employees and five incarcerated people have confirmed cases COVID-19. A third individual incarcerated at a federal prison in Oakdale has also succumbed to the disease. Orleans Parish Prison, East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, and Jefferson Parish Prison all have confirmed cases of COVID-19.

    In order to reduce risk to staff, decrease the number of cases overall, and protect public health, Chief Justice Johnson urged that all district courts “conduct a comprehensive and heightened risk-based assessment of all detainees” and take the following actions:

    1. For those charged with misdemeanor crimes, other than domestic abuse battery, favor a nominal bail amount, or a release on recognizance order – with, of course, a notice to appear on a future date;
    2. For those convicted of a misdemeanor crime, consider a modification to a release and supervised probation or simply time-served;
    3. For those charged with a non-violent offense, consider a reduced bail obligation or a release on recognizance order with, of course, a notice to appear on a future date;
    4. For those charged in other criminal matters, re-examine the nature of the offense and criminal history, if any, to determine if any bail revisions are appropriate;

    By comparison, Louisiana has taken very few steps to reduce the population in corrections facilities as a response to COVID-19 threat in prisons. A chart that shows what other states have done to protect public health by reducing prison populations is linked here.

    Federal funding was made available a few days ago through Bureau of Justice Assistance formula grants that can be drawn down during this emergency to support justice system responses to COVID-19, including home confinement, pretrial release, and other jail alternatives. Louisiana is allocated $9.7 million for this purpose and would have to apply for the funding by May 29th.  Cities, townships, and parishes could apply for an additional $5 million in funding (allocations ranging in size from $33,000 to $1 million depending on population).

    ONLINE: https://www.lasc.org/COVID19/2020-04-02-LASC-ChiefLetterReCOVID-19andjailpopulation.pdf

     

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    High schoolers meet Chief Justice for Law Day

    Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson hosted students from L.B. Landry-O.P. Walker College and Career Preparatory High School, and McDonogh 35 Senior High School at the Louisiana Supreme Court building in observance of Law Day, a national day set aside annually to celebrate the rule of law. Separation of Powers: Framework for Freedom, was the theme for the 60th observance of Law Day.

    Established in 1958 by President Dwight Eisenhower who was motivated to highlight the American governmental system, the Constitution and the inherent freedoms it subscribes to, Law Day is celebrated annually on May 1.

    Nearly 70 students sat in on oral arguments before the Supreme Court on May 1. Immediately after, law clerks fielded questions from the teens regarding the case. They also toured the Louisiana Supreme Court Museum and Law Library of Louisiana, which featured new displays on the three branches of government, and some had an audience with the Chief Justice.

    Chef Johnson“The theme of the day is very timely,” said Johnson. “Citizens of the United States are more in tune with what is happening in America with regard to government, policy and law-making than any other time in history. The Separation of Powers: Framework for Freedom encapsulates the U.S. government model that compartmentalizes the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Each branch has distinct responsibilities to maintain a balance of power, and underscores the mantra– no one is above the law,” said Johnson.

    The American Bar Association declares the Law Day theme annually. Law Day activities are planned to encourage Americans to reacquaint themselves with the Constitution, to encourage careers in the legal profession and government buildings are encouraged to raise the American flag.

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    Chief Justice Johnson declares May 1 as Law Day

    The Louisiana Supreme Court issued a resolution urging all Louisiana state court judges to dedicate the month of May 2015 to reaching out to schools to provide students with an opportunity to learn about the law, the role of judges, and the court system from members of the judiciary. Law Day was established in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to strengthen our heritage of liberty, justice and equality under the law. In 1961, Congress issued a joint resolution designating May 1 as the official date for celebrating Law Day. Every president since then has issued a Law Day proclamation on May 1st to celebrate the nation’s commitment to the rule of law. The 2015 national Law Day theme is “Magna Carta: Symbol of Freedom Under Law.”

    “During the month of May, the Louisiana Supreme Court will host school students participating in Law Day activities including: mock trials and tours of the Royal Street courthouse which include visits to the Louisiana Supreme Court Museum and the Law Library of Louisiana,” said Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson.

    On this 57th anniversary of Law Day, the resolution states in part that “all judges have a unique ability to educate young people about our legal system and respect for the law.” Teachers or principals interested in coordinating a Louisiana Supreme Court tour or a Law Day presentation with a local judge, contact the Louisiana Supreme Court Community Relations Department at 504.310.2590.

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