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Opinion Apr 7, 2020 12:09 AM EST

Why are we locking up citizens and releasing criminals during the coronavirus outbreak?

Why are governments letting real criminals go at the same time they are arresting citizens for violating social distancing guidance?

Why are we locking up citizens and releasing criminals during the coronavirus outbreak?
Sydney Watson Washington, D.C.

This article was published more than 1 year ago, information might not be up to date.

The United States was founded centuries ago on the principles of freedom and personal liberty. Perhaps the greatest disservice to these values has come in the form of government overreach, which has been no better exemplified than the heavy-handed approach to COVID-19.

The same jurisdictions that have arrested church leaders and ordinary citizens for violating social distancing measures are simultaneously releasing violent offenders into our communities.

It begs the question: which is more dangerous to Americans—coronavirus or an increasingly powerful state with unchecked power over the people?

When the primary objective of any initiative is to keep people safe, sometimes the measures thought best are often the most misguided. And what could be more misguided than states like New York, Ohio and California risking the safety of American communities to cater to the needs of sex offenders and criminals.

Releasing inmates to curb the spread of coronavirus in jail might appear to be the sympathetic approach. After all, prisons aren’t exactly known for their abundance of hand sanitizer and soap. And packing thousands of inmates together almost guarantees the spread of disease. Unlike much of society, COVID-19 does not discriminate between offender and law-abiding citizen.

When New York decided to release 50 inmates from an upstate jail recently, it thought it sensible to inform neither law enforcement nor the wider community. Information that, mind you, would have been crucial, considering eight of those released are sex offenders, and a further three have been convicted of raping minors and are considered likely to re-offend.

It’s decisions like this that make it difficult to comprehend the absurd rationalization of policymakers who choose to protect the well-being of violent criminals by putting the broader public at risk, but have simultaneously criminalized seemingly innocuous, everyday activities.

There’s a terrible irony in that.

People all over North America are feeling the effects of wrongheaded approaches to tackling this virus. Stay-at-home orders across the country, and indeed much of the world, carry hefty fines and sometimes jail terms.

People are banned from their churches, their gyms, from seeing their friends and family without a viable explanation.

A woman in Pennsylvania was fined for taking a leisurely drive. A man in California arrested for paddle boarding alone in the ocean. A pastor in Florida was charged for violating a local order against gatherings of 10 or more people.

To some, these instances are an assault on basic, individual freedom. To others, they are well deserved consequences of disobeying the various measures put in place to restrict social movement and “flatten the curve.”

But all of these measures—no matter how ridiculous or inordinate they might seem—are in place to protect you from yourself. Or so officials would have you believe.

Coronavirus has obliterated social movement and personal freedoms, and while many of us grow wary of a looming police state, the actual police are letting real criminals go as quickly as they arrest perceived ones.

There’s something ugly and antithetical about a society that places the majority of its citizens on house arrests, criminalizes their movement and freedoms, while allowing those who legitimately commit crime to walk free.

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