Police groups are pushing back on states and cities across the United States that have made the decision to release jail inmates back onto the streets because of coronavirus fears.
“If you put convicted, but not yet rehabilitated criminals out on the streets where large swaths of the business world are shut down, you can expect an increase in property crimes from looting to robbery,” executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police James Pasco said, according to the Washington Times. “You run the risk of exacerbating the problem.”
An Ohio jail released almost 40 inmates last week, Los Angeles County began releasing inmates who had less than 30 days left to serve, and police in Philadelphia say they will implement a pause on arresting people for certain offenses. Prisoners were also being released in Louisiana, New York City, Utah, and several other places in the U.S.
“The idea of releasing individuals, who by definition are not safe to be among the public, in the name of improving public welfare is nonsensical,” executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations William Johnson said about the moves.
He went on to mention former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s policy of cracking down on small-time offenses rather than relaxing punishments.
“New York City is a great example where you used to have the ‘broken windows’ model of policing where you went after the low-level stuff and improved the overall quality of life for the entire city,” he said.
“We’ve got to be thoughtful and not use broad brushes,” Houston police chief Art Acevedo said. “The last thing you want to do is release a large number of criminals onto our streets that have been not been assessed before they return to society.”
Supporters of inmate releases during this virus outbreak argue the potential spread of the virus within jails is a more significant threat than the crimes these released inmates would pose on the streets.
“The same social distancing principles guiding public and private sector responses should guide the BOP’s response and ensure that its facilities do not unnecessarily bring people into confined spaces that may lead to greater exposure to coronavirus,” a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons reads. “Deliberate action must be taken to meet the responsibility to ensure the health of those incarcerated in the federal system.”