Using the Pandemic to Empty Out Prisons

Longtime de-incarceration advocates are insisting on the increased use of compassionate release and home confinement during the current pandemic, and ask why officials can’t continue to make these modest releases—and then some—after the pandemic passes, especially if crime doesn’t rise as a result and cash-strapped states want the biggest bang for their public safety bucks?   Jordan S. Rubin of Bloomberg Law writes that “reformers, who’ve been fighting for years against warehousing older and sick inmates in particular, see a glimmer of hope that this generational tragedy could serve to promote a more evidence-based approach to crime and punishment.”

Jeremiah Mosteller  policy counsel at the bipartisan Due Process Institute, said “many of the reforms advocates have been calling for in recent years are being implemented temporarily in justice systems across our country.”  So the pandemic “could serve as a tipping point for the recent momentum to implement evidence-based policies and other reforms in our criminal justice system,” Mosteller said.  By “evidence-based policies” we’re guessing he means computer algorithms to predict which criminals are likely to re-offend if released early or sentenced to a community program.  Never mind that the algorithms have been proven frequently  wrong with tragic results and have been labeled racially biased by minority rights groups.   Data compiled by UCLA indicates that so far over 67,000 criminals have been released from jails and prisons across the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  With just a few hundred deaths recorded out of a population of 2.2 million inmates, the risk is lower than that of the general population.  Yet the media is telling us that “Covid-19 has ravaged the nation’s prisons. Scores of inmates are dead. More are sick. And the healthy ones are at risk daily, despite calls for federal and state officials across all three branches of government to do more to save lives.”  Hogwash.

It has also been widely reported that while thousands of inmates have been released during the pandemic, crime rates are down.  But our own Kent Scheidegger suggested that the current crime rate data is misleading.  “As the country reopens,” he said, “the effect of releases will show in statistics as well. Perhaps this will be the event that wakes the public up.”