Attorney General William Barr has added his voice to some police groups who are pushing back on states and cities that have are freeing inmates because of coronavirus fears.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Barr, who has been warning that progressive policies by some local prosecutors risk emboldening criminals, said he fears spikes in crime as authorities increasingly take steps to release inmates, dismiss some charges and make fewer arrests.
His fears were echoed by other police groups.
“If you put convicted, but not yet rehabilitated criminals out on the streets where large swaths of the business world are shut down, you can expect an increase in property crimes from looting to robbery,” said James Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police, reports the Washington Examiner.
William Johnson of the National Association of Police Organizations said “the idea of releasing individuals, who by definition are not safe to be among the public, in the name of improving public welfare is nonsensical.”
However, other chiefs took a less alarmist line.
“We’ve got to be thoughtful and not use broad brushes,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo. “The last thing you want to do is release a large number of criminals onto our streets that have been not been assessed before they return to society.”
Prisons and jails in California, New York, Ohio, Texas and at least a dozen other states are sending low-level offenders and elderly or sickly inmates home early due to coronavirus fears.
“We’re all headed for some dire consequences,” said Daniel Vasquez, a former California prison warden. “They’re in such close quarters—some double- and triple-celled—I think it’s going to be impossible to stop it from spreading.”
Supporters of inmate releases say the potential spread of the virus within jails is a more significant threat than the crimes released inmates would commit on the streets.
“The same social distancing principles guiding public and private sector responses should guide the [U.S. Bureau of Prisons’] response and ensure that its facilities do not unnecessarily bring people into confined spaces that may lead to greater exposure to coronavirus,” says the American Civil Liberties Union.