In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Congressional Democrats recently proposed a $3 trillion spending bill called the “HEROES Act.” It passed the House of Representatives on May 15 in a 208-to-199 vote.
Included in the Democrats’ bill are provisions that would release murderers and other prison inmates just because they are over age 50 or under 18. They would be released even if they have recently committed murder, and have served almost none of their sentence. More importantly, once released, inmates would not return to prison even when the coronavirus epidemic ends. Inmates would have to be released even if they have a communicable disease such as COVID-19. That is so even though some inmates are already deliberately contracting COVID-19 in hopes of getting released.
These provisions are found in a part of the bill called the “Emergency Community Supervision Act.” It requires the “Bureau of Prisons” to “place in community supervision” — supervised release — all prisoners who are “50 years of age or older.” (It also requires the release of prisoners with less than a year left on their sentence, and inmates with a “health condition,” such as diabetes or a weakened immune system, or even temporary or treatable health conditions, such as pregnancy or skin cancer)
So if a 50-year-old murderer has just been put in prison, after being sentenced to 20 years, it doesn’t matter that he hasn’t served any of his sentence. He still must be released. This matters, because not all murderers are young. Many
In theory, the bill allows some dangerous prisoners to remain jailed, if a court finds strong proof that a prisoner poses a “specific” rather than generalized risk of violence. But it is hard to predict a specific violent crime even when the risk of violence is real. Criminals aren’t that predictable. They often commit different crimes after being released than they did in the past. A murderer may or may not ever kill again.
To keep a dangerous inmate from being released, a judge must not only find “by clear and convincing evidence” that the inmate poses “a specific and substantial risk of causing bodily injury to or using violent force,” but also consider the inmate’s “age” and whether detention will affect “access to adequate medical treatment.” So even if an inmate is dangerous, the inmate can still be released due to his advanced age or substandard prison medical care.
The Democrats cite COVID-19 to justify releasing these prisoners, but that is contradicted by the fact that they refuse to put them back in jail even when COVID-19 is gone. Under the bill, prison officials are specifically banned from taking the prisoners back to jail even when the epidemic ends. Section 191102(f) of the bill states that “no individual who is granted placement in community supervision … shall be re-incarcerated … only as a result of the expiration of the national emergency relating” to coronavirus.
Supporters of releasing criminals say it will reduce inmate mortality by protecting them from catching the virus while in prison. But COVID-19 doesn’t kill most inmates who get it — only a tiny fraction die of it. Many inmates who carry the coronavirus don’t even know they have it. As lawyer John Hinderaker notes, “Testing has repeatedly found that 95% or more of the inmates who test positive for COVID-19 never knew they had it.” But they can still give it to other people, such as elderly relatives whose immune systems are weaker and who could die of coronavirus as a result.
Recently released state prisoners are testing positive for COVID-19, even when when they were screened before release and showed no symptoms. This is raising “concerns” that the disease “could spread to the communities where people return upon release.” Inmates’ elderly relatives are much more likely to die of COVID-19 than criminals themselves, who tend to be younger and more able to cope with the virus. A 50-year old inmate will often have parents who are in their 70s or 80s, who can contract the disease from their paroled relative, and then die of it.
States have already released some inmates in response to the coronavirus epidemic. In response, some inmates have decided that getting infected with COVID-19 is their ticket out of prison. According to CNN:
Inmates at a Los Angeles County correctional facility drank from the same cup with the purpose of infecting one another, resulting in 21 cases of coronavirus, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.
The inmates at North County Correctional Facility in Castaic are seen on surveillance video crowding the hot water dispenser, sipping the water, and also “sniffing” out of a common mask, according to Villanueva.
A high-risk registered sex offender was arrested Thursday for allegedly exposing himself … just two weeks after a controversial early release from the Orange County Jail.
Seven inmates who were deemed high-risk sex offenders were released early in April by a court commissioner, triggering criticism and warnings from county law enforcement officials who said the release was not necessary because the jails were not overcrowded.
In Massachusetts, “two convicted murderers from the North Shore are among the more than 200 inmates released by the Massachusetts Department of Correction” in response to a state supreme court ruling. One of the murderers “stabbed” her victim “108 times over the course of several hours.”