As worry about the spread of the novel Wuhan virus increases by the day in the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union took interest in a group they felt had thus far been overlooked: federal inmates.
The ACLU announced via Twitter on Wednesday that they would like to see the release of inmates in federal facilities they considered to be at "heightened risk" of infection by the virus. "We're calling for the immediate release of individuals in prisons and jails who, according to the CDC, face heightened risk of severe illness or death due to COVID-19," the group said in a tweet.
BREAKING: We're calling for the immediate release of individuals in prisons and jails who, according to the CDC, face heightened risk of severe illness or death due to COVID-19. pic.twitter.com/KFjn1BMQCU— ACLU (@ACLU) March 18, 2020
The attached statement implored the Bureau of Prisons to consider the age and health of the prisoners and initiate a release from their sentences for federal offenses. "Time is of the essence and BOP must act swiftly and responsibly to ensure that the 122 facilities in its system housing nearly a quarter of a million people, over 10,000 of whom are over 60 years old, are safe," the statement read in part. "BOP must act in conjunction with U.S. Attorneys and the recommendations of public health professionals to release those most vulnerable to coronavirus and to diminish intake of others to reduce overcrowding."
The message from the ACLU did not outline any exemptions from release based on crimes for which the "vulnerable" inmates were serving federal sentences. The 122 federal prison facilities range from minimum security to high security "Supermax" penitentiaries including the notorious prisons at Terre Haute, Indiana and Florence, Colorado. Inmates that would qualify for release based on the plea by the ACLU include the "Unabomber," Ted Kaczynski, Al-Qaeda operative Abu Hamza al-Masri, "Dr. Death," Michael Swango, and co-conspirator of the 1994 Oklahoma City bombing, Terry Nichols.
The call for the release of dangerous prisoners follows efforts by local police forces to greatly reduce the number of incarcerated individuals by suspending arrests for "non-violent crimes." The Philadelphia Police Department announced on Wednesday that they would suspend arrests for burglary, prostitution, car theft, fraud, narcotics offenses, and other law violations they considered "low level." The effort, they said, was to reduce the number of jailed persons waiting for a court hearing that would be delayed due to court closure. Commissioner Danielle Outlaw cited jail overcrowding and risk of viral spread to inmates as a primary motivation.
The statement from the ACLU didn't attract strong support across social media as even ardent supporters of the organization questioned how safe it would be to release dangerous felons to the public. "Um. No. I'm liberal and like the ACLU, but NOPE to this," one user wrote.
Um. No. I'm liberal and like the ACLU, but NOPE to this.— ???? This is my shocked face. ?? (@IsShocked) March 18, 2020
Do you want The Division? This is how you get The Division.— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) March 18, 2020
I have no desire to have criminals roaming the streets. that will pose a greater risk than the virus. Your concern if anything should be the health of the guards.— Bugsy (@rob_spider) March 18, 2020