As our nation continues to determine the best way to handle the many problems the coronavirus pandemic has brought, Congress is working on another stimulus or virus relief package. But just what will be included in it is unsure at this point.
One of the many topics being discussed is the possible early or temporary release of federally and state held prison inmates around the nation.
At the local level, quite a few counties and municipalities have already released hundreds of inmates back into the citizen population. The fear for many leaders who have chosen this route is that, if and when the virus reaches the prison population, it will spread rapidly and be very difficult to contain, causing illness and deaths among inmates, as well as correctional facility officers and personnel.
The cause has also struck a chord with many political members on the left, as this sparks not only a conversation but an entire movement for criminal reform that has been much debated.
Among one of the loudest voices of support for this kind of action is Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who argued her case on Sunday by quoting Bible verses, of all things.
She told MSNBC’s Joy Reid that many prisoners didn’t really need to be there and that many others had already served enough time, so they should be let go because that’s what the Bible says.
The speaker said, “In our caucus, we are very devoted to the Gospel of Matthew.” She then went on to quote a verse in that book that reads, “When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was homeless, you sheltered me. When I was in prison, you visited me.” She then explained that those words were a “part of our value system.”
Now, correct me if I’m wrong here, but this verse doesn’t say anything about releasing inmates. While it does talk about visiting them during incarceration, it doesn’t even in the slightest imply that we should let them go.
The verse, in its entirety, is about fulfilling needs, namely, feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, and hope to the hopeless. And no one is arguing that those needs shouldn’t be given out when possible. This is basically just another way of saying that if you can do something to help someone in need, then you should.
But releasing prisoners is an entirely different matter.
Yes, we have an obligation to do what is right and best for everyone. And that includes convicted felons. Just because they commit a crime, doesn’t mean their personal health and safety shouldn’t be taken into account.
However, there is much more to consider than just the risk of getting a virus, even a possibly deadly one.
We also have to consider the communities that they are being released into. Pelosi has made the need to follow science and data her most recent mantra. But what data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics tells us is that about 77 percent of all prisoners who are released, no matter the reason, are back behind bars after a mere five years or less.
That means, not only did they not learn the lesson that prison was intended for, but after a very short period of time, they went right back to criminal behavior, wreaking havoc on entire neighborhoods, families, and businesses.
And during this time, that percentage is likely only to go up. After all, job losses are being reported at an unprecedented rate, meaning the opportunities for honest work for a population of recently released inmates are even less than before.
At some point, they will need to eat, to find shelter, to dress themselves. Where will they get those things without means or a way to make a living? It’s not as though they all have massive homes outfitted with $24,000 freezers and refrigerators, like Pelosi.
For far too many, the answer will be to resort to the crimes of their past.
Besides, what do you think science says about the likelihood of these prisoners getting the coronavirus from a neighborhood of thousands, as opposed to the limited amount of contact they get within the prison walls?
It seems Pelosi is the one ignoring science, not Trump. And if she thinks using a Bible verse is going to help convince America of the opposite, she has another think coming.