Great America

Just Say ‘No’ to the Outbreak Jailbreak

In our fight against COVID-19, freeing prisoners could well make us all sicker, and certainly not safer.

A plague is upon us and, like Moses, America’s self-appointed liberators want to use it as an excuse to free captives.

Except today’s prisoners are dangerous, violent criminals and their shepherds are progressive “abolish prison” activists and politicians who view COVID-19 as an opportunity to push their agenda.

Tight quarters and unsanitary conditions on the inside threaten the well-being of America’s worst—its criminals. Well, that’s their current excuse.

Recently, author and former federal inmate Conrad Black made a similar point on these pages.

Thus, we must release criminals to protect them from coronavirus. But it will not protect us from them, as most released prisoners are not being tested for the virus prior to their release.

Tens of thousands of potentially exposed inmates are now free to spread the disease and mayhem alike. In Florida, we discovered (almost a month after the incident) the first known coronavirus-release fatality—by gunshot, not respiratory failure. Repeat felon and 35-time arrestee Joseph Williams murdered a man just a day after the county sheriff sprung him.

But the pro-criminal lobby is undeterred as the ACLU is suing federal, state, and local agencies to free dangerous convicted criminals and illegal aliens amidst the pandemic. And they are winning their freedom.

They are even running TV ads reminiscent of anti-animal abuse com

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mercials, accompanied by similarly heartrending Sarah McLaughlin-type music.

With most states under “stay at home” orders and many jurisdictions threatening jail time for violators, it is rich with irony that the Left sees the outbreak as an opportunity for their long-time goal: letting criminals walk free.

In corona-world, honest citizens are confined to their homes, and their movements are limited under the threat of prison. Meanwhile, to prevent the virus’s spread inside the Big House, prisoners must be freed.

If the “abolish prisons” contingent has its way, the law-abiding must live in cages as lawbreakers leave theirs. They want the world turned upside down.

But that would be unwise, unhealthy, and unsafe.

The first faulty assumption behind the release push is that released criminals will comply with quarantine rules.

Put yourself in the shoes of a man who has spent half his life in a cage, only to be released to sit in another cage after many months, if not years. Would you spend your newfound freedom on the couch watching “The Ellen Show?”

Moreover, these individuals are detained for breaking the law, so the presumption that they will abide civil orders to socially isolate is laughable.

Public health is further endangered by the very nature of pandemic-era crime. Violent acts almost always involve physical contact and force, that often includes the transmission of bodily fluids. If you punch someone in the nose, they begin to bleed, your fist gets cut and now there’s yet another direct contact point for spreading coronavirus.

Similarly, drug dealing—the underlying crime of many of the “nonviolent” offenders that the progressives want out—is unsanitary, to say the least. From their production and wholesale acquisition and transportation to street-level distribution and consumption, illegal narcotics are a dirty business with hundreds—if not thousands—of unwashed hands touching and manipulating the substances. Add to that the unknown chemicals and diluting agents used in making them or the filthy and diseased implements (needles) used to consume them. You’d be better off dining on bat soup.

Humanitarian releases are no solution; instead, they are a human travesty. The social service agencies that these ex-prisoners need including Medicaid providers, substance abuse clinics, and government assistance offices are all but closed.

If properly equipped and regimented, prisons and jails can provide sanitation, medical care, and monitoring services more effectively than they could be acquired outside the walls. They often already implement procedures—rotating meal times, cell lockdowns, and protective equipment and sanitation—on an as-needed basis for security and health reasons.

Furthermore, the morbidity-enhancing health factors—smoking history, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity etc.—aren’t debilitating until you develop coronavirus symptoms. These prisoners aren’t invalids but they are ticking time bombs.

Yet they are being set free to explode amongst us. A few weeks ago, California Governor Gavin Newsom commuted the sentences of 21 killers and released them on compassionate grounds. New York has released child sex offenders. Dozens of other states and localities have similar mass releases underway including New Jersey and Pennsylvania which are planning to release thousands more “temporarily.”

That temporary part makes this whole effort seem like the “theatre of the absurd.” The reason is simple—the monitoring agencies (parole and probation offices) have largely shut down across the country to fight the virus’ spread. The 3500 now-former inmates California released last week have limited to no oversight and, since the non-profits and state agencies that aid releasees are shuttered, they also have no support.

But that is exactly what the ACLU wants: “[parole and probation agents] should cease in-person check-ins to accommodate the need for social distancing, and should allow check-ins to occur by voice or video call. Where those technologies are not accessible to a person under supervision, minimize or temporarily suspenheck-in requirements.”

Data clearly shows that former prisoners without monitoring or help are almost certain to re-offend—returning to the life of crime they know. And some are busy proving it.

New York repeat offender Daniel Vargas was arrested before the pandemic for violating his parole. Governor Cuomo ordered Vargas and 1,100 other violators freed at the end of March. Then Vargas brutally mugged an elderly man in the Bronx for $80.

In Utah, a “nonviolent” drug offender, Joshua Haskell, was first released from state prison and then cut loose from a halfway house. Haskell tied up a woman, held her at knifepoint, and threatened her life.

In Chicago, the prisons and jails are hiding the names of releasees—even from the police. The Windy City has seen gun violence and murder continue apace despite a supposed pandemic crime dip. Similarly, major city shooters aren’t abiding the lockdowns—Baltimore and Washington, D.C. have seen shootings and murders increase since the pandemic started.

Even the oft-spouted claims that overall crime is plummeting as criminals stay at home are terribly misleading. In addition to there being fewer victims of opportunity, police are hamstrung by enforcing social distancing or being quarantined themselves. They are rightly worried about the dangers of COVID to themselves and are reluctant to police proactively. Some agencies have even stopped taking reports for or investigating “victimless” crimes like burglary. Crime is not necessarily down, it is just hidden from all but the criminals and their victims.

In our fight against COVID-19, freeing prisoners could well make us all sicker, and certainly not safer.