Let’s get to the good news first. Well… this is probably only “good news” if you happen to be one of the progressives pushing for criminal justice reform, bail reform and related goals. The jails in New York City are as empty as they’ve been in nearly 75 years. Part of this can be attributed to the lower crime rates Gotham has been experiencing with so many people staying home because of the pandemic. But a lot of inmates have been put back out on the streets as part of the Empty the Jails campaign that’s been catching fire on social media. And Mayor de Blasio has been listening. (NY Post)
The city’s jail population dipped below 4,000 inmates, the lowest level since shortly after WWII, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday as he also said 11,000 hotel rooms are being prepared to quarantine coronavirus victims.
“The jail population is now under 4,000 inmates,” de Blasio said during a City Hall conference call with reporters.
“That is the lowest in 74 years, since 1946, the year after World War II ended,” de Blasio said.
New York officials are emphasizing their claim that the inmates being released are “those who were deemed low-risk for reoffending.” Really? Who did they put in charge of that… Tom Cruise? We might also ask why these people were behind bars to begin with if their risk of recidivism is so negligible.
In any event, it’s not just New York City where this pattern is being seen. Cities all over the country are taking the opportunity afforded by the pandemic to distribute get out of jail free cards in the name of protecting the inmates (and the staff) from the novel coronavirus.
That’s been happening in Tampa, Florida as well. They’ve been emptying the jail cells as much as possible just like New York. In fact, the Hillsborough County sheriff’s office released 164 inmates to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at the county jail.
One such lucky recipient of this opportunity was Joseph Edwards Williams. He’d been doing a stretch in the Crowbar Motel for heroin possession and related offenses. But Mr. Williams’ freedom wasn’t destined to last very long. Only a day later he was back in custody, but not just for slinging heroin. He was arrested and charged with murder, felony gun charges and resisting arrest. (Daily Caller)
A Florida man was accused of murdering a man hours after being released from jail last month over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Joseph Edwards Williams, 26, was arrested Monday in Tampa on charges of second-degree murder in connection with a March 20 homicide. He also faces charges of felony firearm possession, heroin possession and resisting arrest.
Hillsborough County arrest records show that Williams was released from jail on March 19 after a week in custody on charges of possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia.
We’ve already seen interviews with residents of New York City who say that they are currently too afraid to leave their homes even if all of the social distancing orders weren’t in place. Too many municipal governments are using the virus as an excuse to shrink the “incarceration nation” they claim we all live in.
I understand the need to keep people as safe as possible during the pandemic, and that applies to prisoners and jail workers as well. The crowded conditions in many jails no doubt offer a fertile ground for the spread of the disease. But if the example of Joseph Williams teaches us anything, it’s that we need to be thoughtful and cautious with these decisions. Most people who are behind bars are there for a reason. It’s really rare these days for anyone to get locked up for any lengthy period of time for marijuana possession charges or other minor offenses. Even during a crisis such as this pandemic, you can’t simply empty all the jail cells. Someone killed by a violent felon is just as dead as the people dying from the disease.