Thousands of US inmates are being released in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus within prisons. Some argue that keeping prisoners contained will cause more harm than releasing them. Others disagree, expressing concern and in some cases outrage that criminals are being released into the public. There is debate amongst local law officials, judges, and governors as to the best course of action.
5th death inside Florida’s private prison proves #COVID19 is deadlier in #prison. At #Blackwater 10% of positive cases have died compared to 3% in Florida or 2% in that county. @FLRightsRestore @MarshallProj @desmondmeade @Volzie https://t.co/Wstw7YZAhq— Angel Sanchez (@AngelSanchezMia) April 28, 2020
St. Louis county prosecutor Kimberly Gardner, a Democrat, remarked that her job to protect public safety includes inmates. The founder of a non-profit group Bail Project argues that someone should not be subjected to possible coronavirus exposure simply because they are impoverished and cannot afford bail. A judge in the St. Louis circuit court agreed: “The defendant has constitutional rights, too,” pointing out many inmates were pretrial. A judge from Cleveland reassured the public that inmates were not simply being released, but rather that proceedings were being sped up.
In many places, officials said only those convicted of non-violent crimes would be released. LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said those they would let out were prisoners already scheduled to be released within 30 days. Those in support believe that government officials are still moving too slowly, leaving vulnerable prisoners and prison staff at risk.
Regarding prosecutor Gardner’s decision to release dozens of inmates, Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt said, “Given the public’s anxiety, this is no time to quietly negotiate the release of dangerous criminals.” Although in some cases officials have claimed only non-violent criminals would be let out, the New York Mayor’s Office report showed over 300 “violent felony detainees” had been released.
Missouri local officials have expressed concern that many of the incarcerated are homeless, and that returning them to the streets will equally expose them to the virus. It was also highlighted that while some reports are showing no increase in crime amidst the release of inmates, the reason for this is the complete lock-down of the country.
Victim’s families have expressed outrage and concern. One woman, whose daughter was killed by a hit-and-run, said “it’s a slap in the face” knowing her daughter’s killer was free. Illinois House Republicans hosted a video news conference this week demanding more information about prisoners being released, after their first request was ignored.
Note: Brazil is currently releasing hundreds of thousands of prisoners due to the virus.