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The University Star




The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

Opinion: Early-release for non-violent prisoners is essential

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Despite being incarcerated, prisoners are not exempt from the coronavirus, or COVID-19. Prisoners with non-violent offenses should be released to reduce the spread of the virus and ensure safety within the prison system and the surrounding communities.
Health experts have been warning that jails are hot spots for the virus to spread. COVID-19 has spread to prison systems due to lack of hygiene, close proximity with other inmates and lack of resources. According to the MarshallProject, the turnover rate of jails can affect not only those in prison but other surrounding communities as well.
Locally, Hays County Jail took initiative and released almost a third of the jail population in response to COVID-19. And the San Marcos City Council approved the first reading of the cite and release ordinance, which, if fully approved, will keep the prison population from growing.
Unfortunately, at the state and national level, this initiative is not as prominent. Across the nation, political officials are making it obvious they care more about keeping certain people behind bars than protecting the lives of those who might be innocent.
Various lawsuits across the country have been filed by inmates and their respective families, claiming that officials are not doing enough to stop the spread of the virus. Protests, both violent and peaceful, have also been lead calling for the release of prisoners.
After protests and a lawsuit, Chicago’s Cook County Jail—the jail with the highest infection rate in the U.S, with more than 500 staff and detainees infected—has agreed to release hundreds from the jail to stop the spread. Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, states are starting to see the divided classes and who are being affected the most by a virus that still has no cure.
Despite this uproar, Gov. Gregg Abbott moved forward and signed an executive order barring inmates accused or previously convicted of violent crimes from being released without paying bail. Inmates accused of the same charges and with the same criminal history could still be released from jail if they have access to cash.
The order directly discriminates against poor inmates and also does not take into consideration the length of a hearing. Abbott is preventing inmates who may have been charged with a non-violent crime recently, but have a past violent offense, from receiving parole.
Coincidentally, Abbott signed the order the same day Harris County announced their first cases in the prison system, where 25 inmates and 49 jail workers tested positive for the virus and more await testing. The number will continue to grow so long as Abbott continues to block judges and counties from taking steps to lower the prison populations.
Some families of inmates are begging courts and officials to reconsider parole options for those who have health issues. Advocates of incarcerated peoples sent Abbot a list of recommendations on lowering the state prison population, which included releasing elderly and those with health issues that are eligible for parole.
In response, Abbott continued to limit what actions counties can take. Inmates with health issues and the elderly are at a higher risk with fewer resources than those on the outside.
With similar comparison to the Great Depression, releasing inmates will not only save lives but save taxpayer money. Abbott needs to stop barring counties from trying to reduce prison populations. Instead, more counties should instate cite and release programs to prevent more people from entering the prison system for minor offenses.
The elderly and those with health concerns should be eligible for release if they do not have a recent violent offense on their record. All prison systems should look at how they are incarcerating inmates, for what crimes and reflect on how they are actively hurting lower class communities.
Unless proper procedures to allow early-release take place, COVID-19 will become a death sentence for inmates who were not sentenced to receive it.
– Delilah Alvarado is a journalism senior

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