You might be reading this article and thinking that it’s fake news. I only wish it were. Yesterday, under a state-wide initiative led by Governor Cuomo, 50 convicts from Monroe County Jail were released to make enough room to quarantine the inmates due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight of these convicts are registered sex-offenders, three of whom are convicted child-rapists.
So, How Did This Happen?
The release of these sex offenders resulted from a state-wide initiative by New York Governor Cuomo to accommodate prison inmates during the COVID-19 outbreak. Chances are, you might have come across a few articles about the nation’s effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus among jail and prison inmates in correctional facilities. As you can imagine, the tight living quarters and contained spaces within correctional facilities have resulted in a rapid spread of the coronavirus among inmates. A number of state governments, led by New York, are trying to open up available space to properly quarantine their infected inmates, particularly to protect elderly or at-risk inmates from contracting the virus.
Many state governments are rapidly releasing “low-risk” prisoners to free up the space required to quarantine these “at-risk” inmates. How many inmates, exactly? The numbers are staggering. In New York alone, who is leading the nation-wide effort to release “low-risk” offenders, Governor Cuomo ordered the release of 1,100 inmates who were incarcerated for parole violations—400 in New York City and 700 across the rest of the State. In a recent interview with MSNBC, Cuomo asserted that the state is “releasing people who are in jails because they violated parole for non-serious reasons,” and that “wherever we can get people out of jails, out of prisons, now, we are.”
In New York, Governor Cuomo ordered the release of 1,100 “low-risk” inmates who were incarcerated for parole violations.
However, as of Friday, Monroe County Jail, under Cuomo’s initiative, released 50 prisoners, eight of whom are registered sex offenders. Out of these eight, three are level-three sex offenders, the highest level of sexual assault and the most likely to re-offend. All three of these level-three sex offenders were charged and convicted for the rape of minors. These level-three convicted sex offenders are now being housed at a Holiday Inn Express in Greece, New York, along with six other criminals of the 50 total, who were released. As if this wasn’t enough, the Greece, New York law enforcement was not notified of the felons’ release until after they were relocated to the Holiday Inn.
Patrick Phelan, the Greece Chief of Police said, “We weren’t told by anyone. I think good practice would be if you’re going to release convicted felons, some of them very violent some of those level-three sex offenders, you might want to give law enforcement the heads up.” Phelan went on to describe that the nature of these criminals does not fit with Cuomo’s description as “non-serious” or “low-risk" offenders, saying, “So you have a violent criminal who’s done time in state prison who’s been given the chance of parole, and not followed the conditions of their parole. That’s who you’re talking about right now.”
The Devil Is in the Details
The very obvious question remains: how did level-three sex offenders win the “Get out of jail free” card of the century through a state government initiative that was only intended for “low-risk,” “non-serious” criminals? Like all political policy (and this time, to the detriment of the public safety of the citizens of New York), the devil is always in the details.
The chief question that arises from Cuomo’s initiative is “what constitutes a ‘non-serious’ parole violation, or a ‘low-risk’ inmate?” A number of things can send a released convict back to jail for a “non-serious” parole violation, from testing positive on drug tests to forgetting to report to their parole office on schedule or neglecting to report a change in residence to their parole officer. This sounds pretty reasonable, right? If a convict is back in jail for neglecting to report his new address to his parole officer, then a good argument could be made that the cell-space would be better used to quarantine inmates with “more serious” crimes from COVID-19.
These “non-serious” parole violations neglect the central point: these convicts were on parole for reason—for a previous crime.
However, these “non-serious” parole violations neglect the central point: these convicts were on parole for reason—for a previous crime. Though these criminals might have broken a “non-serious” parole violation, it does not change the severity of their original crimes, which, in the case of Monroe County, includes the highest degree of sexual offense and child rape. Moreover, the fact that New York is excusing these parole crimes is even more troubling—the fact that they have broken parole means that these convicts were given the chance to reintegrate back into society via parole, yet failed to do so and ended up back in prison. This contributes to the assessment by the Courts of New York that these released convicts have a higher likelihood of re-offense.
What Does This Mean for You and Me?
As New York is leading the nation-wide movement of state governments freeing up prison space to quarantine inmates through releasing similar offenders of “non-serious” crimes, this news is frightening. States such as Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Louisianna, California and New Jersey are considering similar initiatives as they deal with severe outbreaks of COVID-19 in their prisons, which could result in more violent criminals and sex-offenders being released into our communities. However, the most unsettling aspect of Cuomo’s initiative is that he is neglecting the safety of law-abiding New York citizens as a reactionary measure to combat the coronavirus in state prisons.
Gov. Cuomo is neglecting the safety of law-abiding New York citizens as a reactionary measure to combat the coronavirus in state prisons.
Governor Cuomo has the difficult task of responding to the outbreak of COVID-19 in New York prisons, and he has taken significant measures to ensure the health and services for those inmates who are threatened by the virus. However, when such measures come at the cost of releasing child rapists and level-three sex offenders, then it can certainly be called into question if he has the safety and security of the law-abiding citizens of New York in mind, which he is obligated to uphold. As more states are innovating solutions to protect the health of their prison and jail inmates, we have to hold our legislators accountable so that they do not follow Cuomo’s lead and put our public safety at risk.