Alabama leaders should resist push to release prisoners

Published 1:38 pm Monday, May 11, 2020

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By PAUL DeMARCO | Guest Columnist

Note: This is an opinion column.

Across the nation there has been a push among some groups on the left, to release large numbers of criminal offenders before the expiration of their sentence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advocates for prisoners, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that inmates are at a higher risk of contracting the virus in corrections facilities and that many should be released for their safety.

In New York City, over 1,000 prisoners were released in an effort to reduce the prison population to prevent the spread of the virus.

It should not go unnoticed that these are the same groups that have for years been arguing for reduced sentences for criminal offenders and dramatic reductions of incarceration in Alabama.

In Alabama, the state has reduced parole hearings due to the pandemic. Thus, a strong push has been made to Governor Kay Ivey and  the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles to release more prisoners.

While it is true that those in confined spaces are at an increased risk for spreading any respiratory illness, the state needs to be very careful whenever there is a discussion of releasing convicted criminals early from their court imposed sentences.

Neighboring Florida has also released prisoners due to the pandemic, and now one of those inmates is back in prison charged with murder.

The accused had only been out of prison for a month, when he was arrested for allegedly taking part in a homicide in Tampa.

Elected officials should be aware that early release of criminals into our already suffering community can compound problems. First responders do not need additional problems to deal with during these difficult times.

The Alabama Department of Corrections has been diligently planning for weeks to deal with cases that will inevitably develop in their system. They have even paused transferring prisoners from county jails to avoid the risk of bringing in infected prisoners.  Due to those precautions, we have thus far not seen any major outbreaks in the prison system.

From a public safety perspective, a nationwide pandemic is a poor time to be releasing numerous criminal offenders into the community before the expiration of their sentence.

Governor Ivey needs to resist those pushing for any widespread or reckless prisoner release.  The criminal justice system, including judges along with the administrators of our jails and prisons, are fully capable of balancing the risks to Inmates and correctional officers and the risks to public safety of the early release of a criminal offender.

Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives.