North Texas Daily

Due to COVID-19, non-violent criminals should be released from prison

Due to COVID-19, non-violent criminals should be released from prison

Due to COVID-19, non-violent criminals should be released from prison
April 23
10:30 2020

America is experiencing the harsh impact of a global pandemic in every way. COVID-19 has wrecked the economy, overwhelmed health care systems and highlighted major problems within our prison system. Prisons are overcrowded and many prisoners are testing positive for COVID-19. This situation is threatening our ability to prevent the virus from spreading.

Many prisoners are still serving harsh sentences for non-violent crimes. They are forced to live in a place with low sanitary standards and minimal access to basic hygiene products. In some states, the prisoners are being forced to produce hand sanitizer, yet they can’t use the sanitizer themselves and they can’t receive any through commissary or mail.

I think due to this massive and dangerous pandemic, we should release the prisoners who don’t pose a physical threat to society or themselves. Non-violent criminals would include prisoners serving time for drug offenses, financial crimes and immigration. Solving the problem of overcrowded prisons would be an effective strategy to combating COVID-19 and could potentially prevent more deaths.

The state of New York has been brutally hit by COVID-19 and the brutality extends to its jails and prisons. Across the state’s correctional facilities, more than 1,000 inmates and staff have tested positive for the virus. This number will continue to rise due to the lack of social distancing combined with unsanitary conditions within the facilities.

“There are lots of people using a small number of bathrooms,” Homer Venters, former chief medical examiner at Rikers Island in New York, said. “Many of the sinks are broken or not in use. You may have access to water, but nothing to wipe your hands off with, or no access to soap.”

The same unsanitary conditions apply to other jails and prisons throughout the country. I think reducing the prison population would minimize the health risk to staff, their families and other prisoners.

Ohio prisons are currently having a problem controlling the spread of COVID-19. More than 1,300 inmates in Ohio have tested positive along with 108 employees, resulting in the death of one correctional officer. The Marion facility is holding 1,057 of the infected inmates which makes up 42 percent of the facilities population. This is a good example of how rapidly the virus can spread in a prison. The Ohio state government hasn’t been proactive in protecting their prison population either. So far, they have only released 105 non-violent offenders.

The state of Pennsylvania has crafted a program called the Temporary Program to Reprieve Sentences of Incarceration. The program calls for the release of non-violent criminals who are already eligible for release within the next 9 months. Under this program, at least 1,500 inmates would be released, significantly reducing the prison population. Vulnerable inmates with compromised immune systems who are eligible for release within a year will be released as well.

The program contains restrictions and inmates are provided with “release planning” which ensures they’re healthy and have a safe place to go after release. Some inmates will be temporarily released and go back to prison when it’s safe to serve the remainder of their sentences. Other states should follow this example and create similar programs.

Parole dates should be pushed forward and local jails should refrain from transferring inmates to larger facilities. I don’t think the standards for parole should be lowered and prisoners should be held accountable if they violate parole. Instead of sending them back to prison, they could be placed on house arrest. There are alternatives to incarceration and right now it should be a last resort.

COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate and anyone can get infected. By protecting inmates, we are protecting prison staff, their families and their communities. We need to do everything in our power to control the spread of COVID-19.

Featured Illustration: Kylie Phillips

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Shelby Stevens

Shelby Stevens

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