March 30, 2020 By Allie Griffin
New York’s five district attorneys and the special narcotics prosecutor said the mayor’s office has put forward the names of several dangerous inmates for release–in his attempt to stop the outbreak of coronavirus in city jails.
The head prosecutors said the mayor and the Department of Corrections had suggested releasing inmates who are serving time for domestic violence and sexual assault crimes, despite their pledge last week to exclude them from being released.
They called the administration’s decision making process of who gets released “haphazard” in a joint letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Cynthia Brann.
The mayor is currently releasing hundreds of low-level inmates who have health problems or are advanced in age– since they are particularly vulnerable should they contract the virus.
The prosecutors said they support decreasing the number of incarcerated in order to limit the spread of the virus on Rikers Island and in other facilities — but don’t support the release of inmates who would endanger victims.
“As an example, when we learned last week that the Commissioner of Corrections was about to use her authority to order an across-the-board release of hundreds of inmates serving city sentences, we were assured that the release would not include those serving time for domestic violence or sex offenses, given the risks to victims,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, we later learned that such individuals were indeed included in the ranks of those to be released.”
They asked de Blasio and Brann to evaluate the threat to public safety when choosing to release inmates.
The prosecutors — who include Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz — said the City’s eligibility requirements for release also fail to consider the housing, supervision and support service needs of inmates who are returned to their communities.
They wrote that if such needs aren’t addressed, they “will only compound the possible health, safety and other risks, both to the communities and to the individuals at issue.”
They asked de Blasio and Brann to provide additional resources including supervision for the recently released inmates.
The top prosecutors further asked that the city ensure the safety and health of inmates who will remain detained amid the coronavirus pandemic. The inmates must live in sanitary conditions with quality medical care, they wrote.
They also asked that a specific plan be established for inmates who contract COVID-19 in terms of treatment and oversight, including infirmary or hospital care as needed, and that inmates slated for release be tested for the virus prior to their release.
Lastly, they said additional resources should be allocated to protect victims and survivors who may be more vulnerable should their attacker be released back into the community.