A Corona Jailbreak

The litigation over California’s prison system continues in federal court despite Realignment, Proposition 47, and Proposition 57. Part of the sales pitch for Proposition 57 was that without it we would “risk a court-ordered release of dangerous prisoners.”* Yet the suit drags on without end, and now the inmates are seeking, yes, another “court-ordered release,” including “release of dangerous prisoners.”

Yesterday, the plaintiffs in the endless suit filed an Emergency Motion to Modify Population Reduction Order. Here is their Proposed Order.

The first paragraph of their proposals reads:

1. Defendants shall reduce the population density in crowded congregate living spaces to a level that will permit social distancing by releasing to parole or post-release community supervision those class members who (a) are at low risk as determined by CDCR’s risk assessment instrument or are serving a term for a non-violent offense and (b) are paroling within the year. Within this group, people with six months or less to serve and people who are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should be prioritized.

That’s not too bad. This proposal does consider the seriousness of offense and the risk of recidivism, and its limits the extent of prison time reduction to one year. But from there the proposal goes sharply downhill.

2. Defendants shall release or relocate class members who are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. High risk individuals include: (a) people aged 65 and over; (b) people with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma; (c) people who have severe heart conditions; (d) people who are immunocompromised (for example, due to cancer treatment, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, or prolonged use of immune-weakening medications); (e) people with severe obesity; (f) people with uncontrolled diabetes; (g) people with renal failure; (h) people with liver disease; and (i) people who are pregnant. … Defendants may release these high-risk class members to parole or post-release community supervision and/or use the Governor’s emergency powers to temporarily relocate them.

Note the complete absence of any consideration of what offenses the people in this group have committed or how much danger they present to law-abiding people on the outside. The proposed order says “release or relocate,” meaning that if CDCR can’t relocate them it must release them. A person who raped and murdered children must be released because he turned 65 yesterday if he can’t be relocated within the system. And there is a third paragraph.

3. In the alternative, Defendants shall release to parole or post-release community supervision as many people as necessary to achieve safe social distancing and sufficient space for quarantines and isolations.

Again, no mention and no consideration of the threat to law-abiding people. The safety of people who have murdered, raped, or maimed others takes priority over the safety of law-abiding people, and thugs must be released regardless of how dangerous they are.

The courts are no place to manage a public health crisis. Some releases may be in order to reduce the viral threat, but the violent threat is just as real and must be considered. The needed balancing should be left to the executive and legislative authorities. Those who have committed crimes of great violence such as murder, rape, or mayhem must not be released, period. Whatever danger they face in prison is the result of their own choice to cause great harm to others.


* California Secretary of State, Voter Information Guide, General Election Nov. 8, 2016, p. 58, Argument in Favor of Proposition 57.