Poll: Public opposes releasing prisoners on account of the coronavirus

As noted here, a prisoner released from an Alexandria, Virginia jail due to the Wuhan cornavirus killed the woman who testified against him on sexual assault charges. There had been no cases of the virus in that jail. In another local case, a Montgomery County, Maryland man released from jail for the same reason stabbed a 63 year old man to death.

These stories prompted Fox 5 Washington to take a poll. Viewers were invited to say whether prisoners should be released from jail because of the virus.

This kind of poll isn’t scientific, but the results left little doubt about public sentiment. At the time I saw the station’s report on the poll, about 500 people had voted. 98 percent of them said they oppose releasing prisoners because of the virus. And remember, this poll was of viewers in the D.C. area — one of the most liberal parts of the country.

Liberal, but not stupid. At least on this issue.

Unfortunately, judges and policymakers have no regard for public opinion on matters of crime and safety. In a 2015 poll, 1008 adults were asked the following question:

Thinking about the criminal justice system, which comes closer to your view — that we have too many drug traffickers in prison for too long, or that we don’t do enough to keep drug traffickers off the street?

By a 58-30 margin, respondents chose the right answer: “We don’t do enough to keep drug traffickers off the street.” Yet, a few years later, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reduce sentences for drug traffickers.

In a well-functioning democracy, legislators would not think seriously, given public sentiment, about enacting legislation that reduces the time drug traffickers spend in prison. In a well-functioning justice system, judges would not think seriously about releasing dangerous prisoners due to the corornavirus, especially prisoners in jails where there have been no cases.

But in our democracy and justice system, the elites are more than willing to cram unpopular policies down the public’s throat, and to place the public’s safety at risk in the process.

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