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Tags: Coronavirus | COVID | Criminal Justice Reform | President Trump | Crime | Jails | Policing

Is COVID-19 Also Putting Criminal Justice Reform at Risk?

boot kicking prisoner out of jail in monopoly get out of jail free card
(Richie Lomba/Dreamstime)

By    |   Monday, 27 April 2020 10:56 AM EDT

A recent trend indicates that some officials are seemingly seizing an "opportunity" presented by the coronavirus outbreak to advocate for radical criminal justice reform agendas. Initiatives that limit law enforcement and call for drastic reductions in jail populations with almost no pre-release assessment(s) by parole officials may end up undermining recent strides made in the criminal justice reform movement.

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, New York has freed more than 1,500 people and Los Angeles has released upward of 1,700. The hard hit state of New Jersey approved the release of more than 1,000 county inmates. In nearby Philadelphia, despite a double-digit rise in murders and a court system that remains closed until June due to the outbreak, District Attorney Larry Krasner remains laser-focused on fulfilling a pre-coronavirus campaign promise to reduce the city's jail population.

These initiatives present potential dangers to society. In New York, two men almost released by the de Blasio administration were charged in a robbery where a New York City police detective was killed in the crossfire. While this release was halted when prosecutors intervened, it shows that little-to-no parole or probation oversight was undertaken when politicians used the COVID-19 outbreak as an excuse to release criminals back into the community.

Worse, using COVID-19 as a "back-door" criminal justice reform technique doesn't just affect jail populations, but policing in the general public as well. Recently, Philadelphia police ordered officers to halt arrests for drug offenses and most street crimes while simultaneously, D.A. Larry Krasner's administration introduced a dangerous new bail policy which eliminates pretrial incarceration if defendants can't afford bail.

These policies follow a nationwide trend communicated out of concern for the health of inmates, while failing to address community safety. Worse, if crime spikes in correlation to these progressive public safety practices the potential of lower public opinion of criminal justice reform will grow.

While both sides of the aisle support criminal justice reform, their approaches are drastically different. On the left, the progressive approach to criminal justice reform is one that favors relaxing arrests, prosecutions and charging for a myriad of crimes. The other approach, favored by conservatives and the Trump administration, is to examine draconian sentences that have contributed to America's high incarceration rate while examining clemency and civil rights restoration initiatives for those who have already payed their debt to society.

Whether it's through elections of radical prosecutors, appointing police chiefs who reject proven policing principals, or electing lenient judges, the progressive approach to criminal justice reform has dangerous side effects for public safety. These strategies are a back door to the constitutionally-required legislation and/or court rulings required to change laws.

Instead of engaging in public debate to legislate the repeal of a law; these officials simply do not enforce them. Conversely, many states put marijuana laws to a vote and legalized recreational use. Similarly, high courts overturned unconstitutional gun laws in cities like D.C. and Chicago. These issues, both in left and right issues, illustrate the legislative and judicial checks and balances that legally change laws.

Before the impeachment fiasco, the criminal justice reform movement led to a productive bipartisan debate in Washington. Therefore, it's vital for our government not to lose sight amid the COVID-19 outbreak, and allow reckless policies derail positive accomplishments.

Thus, it's vital that the Trump administration remain steadfast in its clemency initiatives, which marked a departure from the customary practice of quietly pardoning the politically connected at the end of a presidential term, but showed President Trump's resolve to give second chances to those who showed, through rehabilitation, a low risk and benefit to society.

Whether it's by using the coronavirus as an excuse or just political inclination, leaders from our most crime-ridden jurisdictions are giving criminals a pass on crimes that, if enforced effectively, can preserve public safety and, through innovative correctional initiatives, can prevent that criminal behavior from metastasizing like a cancer to the point where that person may graduate to violent crime.

At the same time, millions of Americans who made one mistake and go decades without any issue are forced to carry the lifelong scar of a criminal record. Considering the estimated 19 million Americans with criminal records, the Trump approach to criminal justice reform in issuing clemency or pardons for those who have proven long-time rehabilitation and may even carry the burden of a criminal record for crimes that may have since been overturned is far more responsible.

Regardless of what side of the aisle you're on, we all recognize that society and laws change. Criminal justice reform is a necessary and worthy issue to address, but needs to be done safely, with respect to those who had submitted to a process and have since demonstrated their rehabilitation, not those who are actively engaged in criminality.

It is therefore unethical for officials to use a public health emergency to decide what laws should or shouldn't be enforced without legislative debate or a judicial ruling.

A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his two and a half decade career and his own experiences on both sides the criminal justice system. Mannes has served in both federal and municipal law enforcement though the 9/11 attacks, DC-area sniper investigation, major homeland security exercises and natural disasters as well as having to face a charge for the later-ruled unconstitutional DC gun law. Thereafter, Mannes served for nearly 9 years as the Director, Office of Investigations for North America’s largest medical board, as a Chief Compliance Officer, consultant, expert witness, nonprofit board member and political adviser. Read A. Benjamin Mannes's Reports — More Here. 

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While both sides of the aisle support criminal justice reform, their approaches are drastically different.
Coronavirus, COVID, Criminal Justice Reform, President Trump, Crime, Jails, Policing
Monday, 27 April 2020 10:56 AM
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