At a time when we’re supposed to be socially distancing and staying at least six feet away from one another, the nation’s jails and prisons could be a perfect place for the COVID-19 virus to easily spread. That’s why the Legal Aid Society of New York City is calling for an immediate end to all arrests in the five boroughs until the pandemic is over. The group says lives can be saved if arrests are halted, as well as the release of anyone currently in detention for parole violations or on pre-trial detention. The vast majority of those currently incarcerated in New York City, in other words.
“City Hall must place an immediate moratorium on arrests, and for the hundreds of clients we have languishing in DOC custody pretrial or because of a parole violation, we call for their immediate release. These facilities are literal breeding grounds for infectious disease such as COVID-19. The continued incarceration of our clients during this health crisis could very well carry a death sentence,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society
I’m understanding of the idea that places like Rikers Island have a lot of people in close confinement and therefore the coronavirus may spread quickly through the facility. However, I can’t sign off on the idea that we just stop making arrests for the next several weeks, and I can’t imagine many New Yorkers who aren’t behind bars are excited about the idea either. Law and order is very important to New Yorkers, and I’m guessing right now that need feels particularly acute since so few residents have the ability to defend themselves with a firearm. Frankly, I think New Yorkers are far more likely to call for crackdowns on crime if we start to see any unraveling of the social fabric than to embrace the idea of emptying the jails and putting a stop to all arrests, no matter how progressive the city may claim to be.