Newell: Don't want to get sick in jail? Don't commit crimes

Criminals put themselves at risk, not the police who arrest them

Newell Normand
March 20, 2020 - 4:49 pm

Hannah Lommers-Johnson, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center and former public defender, said that District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s use of the coronavirus pandemic to keep people in jail is “shocking,” and that “social distancing cannot be accomplished in a jail, and people charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent offenses, even if convicted, will be released sooner rather than later.” To help explain some of the contours of how the carceral system is going to respond to the spread of COVID-19, Newell asked Rafael Goyeneche from the Metropolitan Crime Commission to join him on the show Friday morning.

“Some folks will stop at nothing to get early releases and get people out of jail,” Newell began. “It’s difficult to do social distancing in hospitals, clinics, homeless shelters, nursing homes and otherwise. Those challenges are presented in any number of confined areas!”

“If the advocacy groups ask the police to not arrest people breaking the law, why don’t they advocate that the offenders refrain from committing crimes?” Goyeneche responded. “The police have taken an oath to enforce the laws, and that means if you break the law, they will make an arrest and you will go to jail. If you don’t want to be exposed to the virus in jail, the solution isn’t to just release people with no consequence, the solution is to not break the law so you don’t go to jail! The people making these statements are paid by their clients, the offenders. That’s their responsibility, to advocate for their clients… but who is advocating for the general public, and the victims of crimes? There are two sides to every story, but the people making the most noise right now are the ones advocating for the lawbreakers, and the general public gets forgotten.” 

“They were upset because there were these canned motions being filed on both sides, and someone made an observation that the New Orleans jail doesn’t have negative-pressure rooms,” Newell said. “Well, most hospitals don’t have that either. Only two hospitals in the city do have that, and the grand total is less than twenty. So we’re trying to provide accommodations for an inmate that we’re not providing for the general public that’s more at risk, since they’re not in a controlled environment. If you have a pod in the jail and everyone in there’s been in since before December 2019, they haven’t been exposed at all. And not unlike in hospitals, you try to separate the infected from the un-infected, and you use the same protocols - taking temperatures and so forth. This is just another ideological grab, and if anyone is exploiting this, it’s them!”

“Some of the advocates are saying the police shouldn’t be making these arrests,” Goyeneche continued. “But there were more than 100 vehicle burglaries between Monday and Thursday. What about the victims of those crimes? Like everyone else, they’re probably not getting paid, working in service industry jobs. The offender that is caught breaking in should be released with no bail, but who is going to take care of the victims who have to pay out-of-pocket to repair their car and replace whatever was stolen? That’s where the disconnect is, and the public defenders and the people advocating for the offenders, that’s their job, that’s what they are paid to do. But thank goodness that the criminal justice system, whether that’s police officers, prosecutors or judges, are recognizing the severity of these offenses, and they’re not drinking that Kool-Aid.”

“It’s interesting… it’s so bad in Baltimore right now that the Mayor is having to plead with gangs to put themselves on hold for a few months while the city deals with an influx of coronavirus cases,” Newell said. “It’s almost comical that the Mayor is appealing to the altruistic nature of gang members! If those gangs find out there’s going to be less policing, less enforcement - you’re going to have more of that criminal activity!”

“And even if you are caught, there’s less a chance of a consequence being imposed on you!” Goyeneche agreed. “The offenders believe the rewards outweigh the risks in all of this, they believe it’s worth trying to steal someone else’s property or rob somebody or worse, and they like their odds of getting away with it, or beating the charges if they are arrested. There are groups out there actually raising funds to pay bail for people booked with felony offenses. If people want to spend their money that way, that’s their right, but you just can’t look at the offense, you have to look at the offender, that’s what the law requires. Someone arrested for a vehicle burglary today may have felony convictions for armed robbery, weapons charges and the like, and that’s why judges are setting bars at higher levels.”

“The reaction of the public in events like this as it relates to price gougers is that they want them strung up,” Newell said. “Well, these are property gougers, taking advantage of people distressed by this situation. These offenders put themselves at risk for going to jail and possibly contracting the virus.”

Hear the entire interview in the audio player below. 

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