COVID-19: Life Without Parole

When a woman accused of trying to kill someone with a poisoned cheesecake appeared on a list of Rikers Island prisoners to be freed because of coronavirus risks, New York’s district attorneys banded together to strike her name. They also struck the names of two men charged in an armed robbery during which a police detective was killed by friendly fire.

The pandemic poses an outsize threat to the nation’s jails and prisons, where confined populations can’t take the recommended precautions and often lack access to such basics as soap and hand sanitizer — sometimes even running water. Federal and state authorities, as a result, have begun to release thousands of inmates.

The focus, however, has been on low-level offenders.

“There are some at-risk inmates who are non-violent and pose minimal likelihood of recidivism and who might be safer serving their sentences in home confinement,” Attorney General William Barr wrote tepidly late last month in a memorandum to the Bureau of Prisons director.

And in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that his state’s efforts “will be for those nonviolent offenses, and we will do it in a very systematic way.”