According to a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), local governments have released nearly one-third of their inmates due to concerns that the coronavirus could spread excessively in jails. Some county jails have released a majority of their inmates.
The jail with the largest decrease in its inmate population was Clackamas County jail in Oregon which set free 63% of its inmates. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the jail had 403 inmates. Now, it has just 148.
Other county jails have also reduced their population by over 50% within just a few months. Faulker County, Arkansas has reduced its jail population by 58%. Bergen County, New Jersey has released 57% of its prisoners and Snohomish County, Washington has freed 55% of its inmates.
PPI noted that there are several methods that counties are using to reduce their jail populations. “Police are issuing citations in lieu of arrests, prosecutors are declining to charge people for ‘low-level offenses,’ courts are reducing the amounts of cash bail and jail administrators are releasing people detained pretrial or those serving short sentences for ‘nonviolent offenses.’”
The study from PPI determined that state jails have been much slower to release their inmates.
Though officials responsible for releasing inmates claim these prisoners are “non-violent,” the opposite is true in some cases. Not every inmate being released is a low-level offender.
As The Daily Citizen previously reported on May 4, the state of New York has released eight sex offenders and three child rapists. Additionally, California released seven high-level sex offenders from the county’s jails. “These kinds of high-risk sex offenders are the most dangerous kind of criminal and the most likely to re-offend. These are not the kind of people who should be getting a break,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said of the news.
In one horrifying instance, a Colorado inmate released early due to COVID-19 has now been rearrested after being accused of murdering a 21-year-old woman, The Washington Examiner reported.
Cornelius Haney was one of the inmates released from a Colorado prison after Gov. Jared Polis, D-Colo., issued an executive order allowing for “special-needs parole” to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Colorado prisons.
Haney, now back in prison, is accused of killing 21-year-old Heather Perry whose body was found in an alleyway on Saturday, May 9.
Gov. Polis said of the news, “nobody on that parole board thought that this person was going to do what they allegedly did.”
On Monday, March 23, 2020, Gov. Polis signed a law banning the death penalty in the state of Colorado.
Other inmates around the country are trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic in hopes of getting a get out of jail free card.
NBC News has reported that dozens of inmates in a Los Angeles County jail deliberately tried to infect themselves with the coronavirus in order to score an early release. A video from the jail shows inmates at North County Correctional Facility drinking from the same bottle of water and breathing through the same mask to try and spread COVID-19.
Also in California, The Daily Wire reported that Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims is not enforcing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s, D-Calif., stay-at-home order because their police force is too busy re-arresting criminals that are free due to the state’s new “zero-dollar bail” policy which was implemented in 2019.
“We do not stop the public to find out what they’re doing when they’re not sheltering in place. We don’t ask those questions, we don’t ask if they’re ‘essential,’” Sheriff Mims said. “We’ve got our hands full trying to re-arrest people that are released due to zero-dollar bail. We’ve got other things that are on our mind that are more important than stopping normally law-abiding citizens.”
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