If Americans are being told to “shelter in place,” shouldn’t criminals have to shelter in their places too, in prison?
It’s a simple commonsense point lost on most governors and mayors in the country right now, but one governor gets it. On Sunday night, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order “to preclude the release on personal bond of any person previously convicted of a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence, or of any person currently arrested for such a crime that is supported by probable cause.”
The mass coronavirus jailbreak policy has been sweeping nearly every state in the country. Several large city jails in Texas have begun releasing criminals, and Governor Abbott is trying to prevent a mass jailbreak. He therefore barred “any county judge or mayor of a municipality, or any emergency management director, from releasing persons under any circumstances inconsistent with this order.”
Abbott’s order warns of “broad-scale release of arrested or jailed individuals as a result of COVID-19, including potentially those who have committed felonies.” He notes that “such releases from county or municipal jails of those charged with, convicted of, or having a history of offenses involving physical violence or threats of physical violence would not only gravely threaten public safety, but would also hinder efforts to cope with the COVID-19 disaster.”
Joe Gamaldi, president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Houston, immediately praised Abbott’s decision. “Our officers have their hands full dealing w/ #Covid_19 pandemic and don’t need added duty of babysitting felons who should be behind bars,” wrote the veteran cop on Twitter.
Clearly, Abbott is trying to avoid the danger we are seeing in New York. Under the leadership of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York State prison system just released eight high-level sex offenders. These eight were among 51 prisoners released from the Monroe County jail on Saturday. Three of the criminals have been convicted of child rape and have registered as “level 3” sex offenders. These three criminals are now staying at a Holiday Inn Express in Greece, New York.
According to Patrick Phelan, the Greece Chief of Police, his department was not even given a heads-up about this decision.
“I am outraged by the recent release of the 51 incarcerated individuals, 9 of who now reside in our town,” wrote Greece Supervisor Bill Reilich in a statement. “They went from a prison cell, where they were serving their time as they were sentenced to living in a hotel, with more amenities than some of our families. They are not worried about running out of supplies, where their next meal will come from and of course the new (but part-time) social distancing.”
Reilich notes the ridiculous and unprecedented strategy of mass release of prisoners during an epidemic when in fact a jail is the ultimate quarantine and much easier to protect than the general public.
I would tend to believe that as we have all had to adjust limiting personal contact that the jails would adjust as well. And the answer isn’t “set them free”. In fact, I would think that perhaps minor adjustments in the amount of contact would be much easier with individuals in their cells. Limit time when the general population gathers and yes invoke what we all have to, strict social distancing.
Remember, prisons are the ideal isolation environment for epidemics. They don’t need to keep distancing from each other as long as nobody is allowed in. The virus can’t jump fences or fly. And anyone who already had it was quarantined by now. Releasing more people this late into the epidemic will only expose more people, not fewer. Yet this is being done in almost every state. Now, 14 Republican and Democrat senators are demanding Trump do the same in federal prisons.
Also, who is paying for the motel stay of these sex offenders? The New York Post reported last week that those released from Rikers Island by Cuomo are receiving free phones, cab fares, and hotel rooms.
Cuomo considers these people released in Monroe County low-level because they were reincarcerated for “technical” violations of their probation. However, he is failing to take into account prior history and the totality of circumstances. This is the same problem with local officials releasing what they consider “low-level” drug offenders without considering their past history and threat level.
The results of the jailbreak are truly awful. Given the severity of COVID-19 in New York City, one would expect crime to plummet. Shockingly, while crime has gone down compared to just before the virus, it is still way up relative to this time last year. For the week of March 9-March 15, murders were double over the same week last year. Rape was up 18 percent, burglary up 35.7 percent, and grand larceny-auto up 64 percent. That is simply astounding given the near lockdown in the city.
Also, it’s safe to say that crime numbers are likely even higher but have gone unreported because police are not arresting as many people due to the drained resources involved in helping emergency responders.
The question for the rest of America is whether we will follow in the footsteps of Governor Abbott or Governor Cuomo. If we are going to become like Singapore with authoritarian rules on civil liberties, can we at least become like Singapore regarding criminals and illegal aliens?