People serving time may be doing so for a wide variety of reasons and for a spectrum of offenses.
While decreasing crowded populations in prisons is a natural instinct to stall the spread of COVID and its further decimation, this “solution” harms the livelihoods of incarcerated persons and increases the danger of the very victims and survivors they’re serving time for harming.
Numerous studies and countless hours of media coverage have been dedicated in recent months to the rise of coronavirus in prisons, especially given that the death rate among incarcerated inmates is three times higher than that of the general population.
The death rate among incarcerated inmates is three times higher than that of the general population.
Employees, families of inmates, protestors, and other individuals connected to the criminal justice system have been quick to criticize the way in which COVID has affected inmates, and policymakers have been quick to respond. Apparently, instead of improving day-to-day conditions in prisons, prioritizing testing in correctional facilities, limiting non-essential contact or movement, partnering with local public health professionals and experts, and increasing medical staff, equipment, resources and more, the solution is to let them out?
How Is This the Perfect Solution?
Look anywhere in the media, and you’re sure to find what many are touting as the correct, and even obvious solution, to this issue of paramount importance.
While this issue first stemmed from genuine fears over the spread of COVID in prisons, it quickly, and perhaps inevitably, grew to a rallying cry for those continuing to protest police brutality and the host of flaws in law enforcement and the system as a whole.
People are concerned about violent offenders being released, and the precedent this sets.
While policymakers and activists are quick to jump to the defense of low-level offenders in for petty crimes, for the opposition, that’s not really what this is about. It’s about the violent offenders who are being released, what kind of precedent that sets for the next wave of offenders, and how those crimes will be treated under post-COVID rules.
So, Who Are We Talking About?
A piece from Slate recently cited an empirical study which found that releasing prisoners with violent records is “much less dangerous than you probably think.” Take a breath everyone, we can all rest easy.
But it wasn’t less dangerous for Virginian Karla Dominguez. In October of last year, she accused Ibrahim Bouaichi of abduction, strangulation, sodomy, and rape. In April, Bouaichi’s attorneys argued that the risk of catching the virus in prison was enough of a concern to release him on only $24,000 bond and allow him to return to his home. In July, he shot Dominguez and then himself.
In July, released rapist Ibrahim Bouaichi shot his accuser and then himself.
It won’t be less dangerous for the victims of Matthew Parris and Glenn Christie, two convicted sex offenders (Parris of aggravated statutory rape and Christie for child rape and abuse) released from Massachusetts correctional facilities.
It won’t be less dangerous for the victims of Rudy Magdaleno and Joseph Williams, a convicted sex offender and an alleged murderer respectively.
These are the offenders we’re concerned about and should be concerned about.
Jacob Reisberg, an advocate with the ACLU of Southern California, claims we should be “releasing far more people” than we’re putting in, and that “fear mongering” is what contributes to overcrowded prisons and mass incarceration. Perhaps if the Virginia state attorney’s office had given in to fear mongering (by Reisberg’s standards), Karla Dominguez would still be alive today and her rapist behind bars.
Hurting Both Survivors and Offenders
Remember rape culture, the reason feminists and critical theorists alike use to explain “a society that disregards women’s rights and safety”? Think about it. If one single crime against a woman contributes to an overall society of ingrained female limitation, degradation, and terror, and the perpetrator is allowed to escape without being held responsible, that’s the culture we’re currently living in.
Remember rape culture? There was a time we didn’t stop hearing about it. Now, we’ve heard nothing. A silence that speaks volumes. No concern, no consideration for the victims and survivors of violent, horrendous, unthinkable offenses. Only concern for the safety and health of their perpetrators. Once again, we’ve seen a brand of mainstream feminism that serves only a select few and only a certain agenda. A feminism that does not represent all women.
This is a brand of mainstream feminism that serves only a select few and only a certain agenda.
We’re hurting offenders too. Our system of incarceration is rife with deeply entrenched flaws and issues. Prisoners are barely afforded soap, much less sanitizer and effective protection equipment and apparel. Facilities never stood a chance of fighting back against corona.
But instead of confronting those issues head on, in addition to the whole host of problems facing inmates and a strained, broken system, we’ve swept it all under the rug for a one-size-fits-all solution. Releasing inmates has dominated the discourse, but we’ve heard nothing about bettering the system or the facilities that house them. There’s a saying, “Let the punishment fit the crime.” But what happens when the punishment is nonexistent?
In instances of injustice and mistreatment of vulnerable populations, feminists are among the first to vocalize and critique the systems of power in place that are hurting women.
A system that allows these perpetrators — rapists and murderers among them — to bypass punishment for the sake of public health (when addressing public health in the first place would better serve them) is the very system we’ve heard about for so long.
Survivors of violent crimes are among our society’s most vulnerable. Yet we’ve heard no activism, no advocacy, no support for them in this convoluted argument. Just on the part of the parties responsible for their trauma, pain, and suffering.
There’s a cognitive dissonance here that’s almost astounding. But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to forget vulnerable populations when those who were once their most vocal proponents have decided to ignore the conversation.