by WorldTribune Staff, April 27, 2020
Since the coronavirus outbreak began, leftists nationwide have advocated for the release of prison inmates, saying they are particularly at risk because of being housed in close quarters.
CNN even ran an op-ed piece titled “Releasing prisoners during Covid-19 crisis makes good sense”.
The New York Post reported that at least 50 prisoners released by New York City due to the COVID-19 crisis had already been re-arrested for committing more crimes. And some of those who were re-arrested were released yet again.
In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee released about 1,100 inmates earlier this month, reports say.
The legal group Columbia Legal Services sued the state, saying the state prison system violated the “cruel punishment” clause in the state constitution that protects inmates from “a substantial risk of serious harm.”
Columbia Legal Services argued for the immediate release of 12,000 inmates.
One of those is Gary Ridgway, better known as the Green River Killer who murdered between 48 and 71 women during the 1980s and 90s.
On April 23, the state Supreme Court of Washington voted 5-4 against releasing prisoners, including Ridgway, across the state amid the coronavirus crisis after victims’ families and the attorney general’s office voiced outrage that some of the nation’s most dangerous criminals could be set free. (Yes, four of the supreme court justices voted in favor of releasing Ridgway).
Chief Justice Debra Stephens asked Nick Straley, an attorney with Columbia Legal, about the constitutional grounds for when the judiciary “gets to interfere with the exercise of discretion” by another branch of government, in this case the executive branch during an emergency.
“The duty is to protect our clients from COVID-19, and all of the scientific evidence before the court indicates there have to be releases (of inmates) to do that,” Straley replied.
Stephens said she still had concerns about what the high court would tell Inslee and state Department of Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair to do.
“What is the mandate? We’re going to tell them, `release x number apparently,’ but I heard you say earlier they’d have discretion on who is safe to release,” Stephens said.
Straley replied: “What is constitutionally compelled is to operate a safe prison system and in this context, what that means is there are a number of people who can be safely held in the prisons. That is a number that can be determined. Can I tell you today what that number is? No. But neither can the Department of Corrections.”
Columbia Legal had asked the court to identify all inmates who are age 50 or over (Ridgway is 71), those who have underlying medical conditions which put them at risk of serious harm or death from COVID-19, and those who have early release dates within the next 18 months or are currently on work release.
The state Attorney General’s Office places the number of inmates in those categories at 11,715 including 5,272 who have committed serious violent offenses such as murder, assault, and rape.
Ridgway and Isaac Zamora, who killed six people in a 2008 shooting, are two of those inmates who meet that criteria.
Families of the victims were required to write documents for the record opposing Zamora’s release. One such person was Tonya Fenton, whose mother was one of Zamora’s victims. Fenton posted an emotional video talking about the horror of recalling the entire experience and tragedy. Fortunately for the vicitms’ families Zamora was not released.
And Ridgway must now see out the coronavirus pandemic from his cell in Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.