Many Americans were puzzled when state governors flexing their newfound biceps summarily decided to release dangerous criminals back into society.
The reason given for this drastic action was to protect the incarcerated from infection by the coronavirus flu bug, with no concern over what could happen to the people on the outside who had been protected from the criminals when they were housed behind bars.
Once the estimated 2.3 million inmates started being reintroduced to the general population, the inevitable happened: the criminals committed more crimes and wound up with new jailable charges.
As soon as the new concepts of 6-foot "social distancing" and "slow the spread of infection" gained political acceptance in March 2020, prison system experts said that the number of cases warranted letting legal offenders go free.
As of April, more than 231 inmates and 223 staff members were reported infected at the Rikers Island jail complex in New York and 134 detainees had tested positive in Illinois' Cook County jail.
Criminal law professor Sonja Starr explained from her ivory tower the heightened risk threatening the prison community:
"Once [COVID-19 is] there, it will spread like wildfire because there's basically no way in the crowded conditions that exist in current jails and prisons to implement social distancing."
In April, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in Texas ordered the sheriff to start releasing certain non-violent inmates from the county jail as soon as possible. One inmate had tested positive for COVID-19. Another 30 prisoners had symptoms.
On April 14, 2020, a Texas inmate who had been released by Hidalgo's decree to slow the spread of coronavirus was arrested on new criminal charges. Quaran Isiaha Pope was set free on April 3, one of a dozen men released under the order before a felony court judge blocked it.
Pope had a prior criminal record and was released with pending charges of possessing someone else's ID. Lo and behold, nine days later Pope was arrested again on charges of possessing other people's IDs and stealing a motor vehicle.
Hidalgo held fast to the bad advice underlying her new rules:
"What the health experts have told us is to be in a position where we're safe we need to have the jail population around 5,000."
Also in April, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons personnel to identify "at-risk inmates who are non-violent and pose minimal likelihood of recidivism and who might be safer serving their sentences in home confinement."
Around the same time, the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois, had emptied some 6,000 prisoners, dropping from 10,000 detainees to about 4,200 - a historic low. Fueling this activity was the growing spread of COVID-19 throughout the prison system, from a few cases in late March to hundreds by the beginning of April.
In all those cases, three prisoners died, allegedly of COVID-19 infections.
On March 29, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, issued an executive order requiring a bond payment before thousands of inmates could be released. The reason for insisting on collecting bail was:
"to preclude the release on personal bond of any person previously convicted of a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence, or of any person currently arrested for such a crime that is supported by probable cause. I hereby order that no authority should release on personal bond any person previously convicted of a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence, or any person currently arrested for such a crime that is supported by probable cause."
Gov. Abbott justified his directive:
"Releasing dangerous criminals makes the state even less safe. That also complicates and slows our ability to respond to the disaster caused by COVID-19. We want to reduce and contain COVID-19 in jails and in prisons for the benefit of both the inmates as well as the law enforcement officers, the employees, and the staff of those facilities."
Bail reform supporters immediately decried the law as unconstitutional. Amanda Woog, Executive Director of the Texas Fair Defense Project, accused the Lone Star State's top leader of revenue-raising during the much-exaggerated health crisis:
"It's not tied at all to public safety. What it's tied to is people's access to money."
Woog lobbied for local jurisdictions to decide how to deal with prison outbreaks of coronavirus:
"No place that I've talked to is doing mass release or is not considering on an individualized basis who should be released from jail."
On May 18, in California, Daniel Orozco (28), was re-arrested after his release from Monterey County Jail on Highway 101 and re-processed into the incarceration facility. Only a few minutes after he walked away from the jail, Orozco allegedly carjacked a woman and strangled her 11-year-old son.
Orozco had been detained originally for arrested by highway patrol officers for allegedly driving the wrong way while under the influence of drugs. He was let go almost immediately after his arrest. Within ten minutes, he assaulted a woman to steal her car and attacked her boy after she refused to give the repeat offender the keys to her car.
The miscreant now faces multiple counts of carjacking, kidnapping, child endangerment, and assault with a deadly weapon.