At the behest of the First Judicial District Court along with the Caddo Parish Commission and Caddo District Attorney, the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office is releasing nonviolent pre-trial inmates with no cash bond on their own recognizance during the global coronavirus pandemic.

“That’s how serious this problem is. When you start hearing Steve Prator taking about releasing inmates … then you know that it’s something that is extremely serious and very needed,” said Prator of himself at a joint press conference on Friday, April 3.

Sheriff Prator was famously resistant to Governor John Bel Edwards’ call for early release of nonviolent offenders in 2017. His remarks drew national media attention on more than one occasion.

Though there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Caddo Correctional Center, the Parish entities recognized the additional burden that nonviolent inmates who had not yet been to trial poses to their health and the health of the facility and its inmates.

The Supreme Court of Louisiana issued a recommendation yesterday about how district courts should operate. The recommendation reads: “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… 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;”

“We have released them through ROR [release on recognizance] bonds and we have released almost 100,” said Prator.

An additional 50 inmates were released with ankle monitors to reduce population further. Those released under supervision were screened and deemed eligible for the program. The monitoring costs are being paid for by the Caddo Parish Commission to the tune of about $3,600 per inmate — a savings of over $26,280 per inmate over incarceration. The effort to release qualifying inmates had been in discussion since mid-March, according to documents acquired by Heliopolis.

The Louisiana Supreme Court also recommended that, whenever practicable, law enforcement should issue summons and citations on misdemeanor crimes and non-violent offenses in lieu of arrest, with a notice to appear on a future date. Shreveport Police Department had indicated in a press conference on Monday, March 30th that they will be issuing summons for some infractions.

Perhaps we can see this as a learning opportunity for eliminating cash bail, particularly for nonviolent offenders.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this article implied that Caddo Parish Sheriff Prator was releasing the inmates due to a sheriff policy change, but we have learned that it was the courts, not the sheriff, who mandated the release of nonviolent, pre-trial inmates.