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COVID jail release and prison reform fuel violence across big cities

As prisons see wholesale paroles of convicted felons over worries that they could contract COVID-19 inside their prison cell, authorities are raising the alarm saying that too many criminals on the street translates into too much crime.

Big cities including Chicago, Houston and New York have seen violent crime explode over the last month and some are saying that a combination of factors, including early release from jail, is fueling the crime wave.

Statistics from the New York Police Department show that 11 percent of the 2,500 prisoners released early due to COVID-19 have been re-arrested 550 times so far in the Big Apple.

“We’re continuing to see people get arrested over and over and let right back out. And it really defies common sense,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said in an interview with NBC New York.

Those numbers support a pre-COVID finding that low or no bail for criminals increases the amount of times police have to re-arrest someone who was released after previously committing a crime.

“A University of Utah law school study in February found the number of released defendants charged with committing new crimes increased by 45% for all crimes and 33% for violent crimes after the new Cook County [low-to-no] bail policy was implemented,” reports the Wall Street Journal about Chicago’s experience.

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown says that early release, especially for violent criminals, is definitely driving crime in Chicago right now.

“We must keep violent offenders in jail longer. We should revamp the electronic monitoring program. It’s clearly not working,” Brown said in the wake of record-breaking violence over the Fourth of July weekend in Chicago.  

Similarly, police in Houston say that the revolving door, not just from COVID but also from prison reform, has seen murders climb 37 percent in 2020.

“At the end of the day, when we see people going in one door and out the other door and recommitting violent crimes while they are out on bond, that is a problem we need to look at,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who also heads the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association.

Others say that one of the problems is that the recent focus on police reform has driven cops to not be as engaged with neighborhoods that they police out of fear that they get in trouble for doing their job. That and the uselessness of arresting people who will be free the same day have seen arrests plummet in Atlanta.

In Atlanta, arrests have dropped from over 2,600 per month in April to about 215 per month for June.  

“The police just don’t seem to care anymore,” Morris Worthen, a Black Atlanta native told the CSMonitor. “Everybody protests police shootings of Black people, but I don’t see any protests when Black people kill Black people,” he added.

Police do indeed care, especially about Black people. But it’s hard on them when their job is to put people in jail, and the criminals are let out right away so they can prey on cops and citizens again.

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