Most of us are familiar with variations of a saying which speaks to those who become entangled in illegal actions and find themselves residents of the prison industrial complex: “If you do the crime, you must serve the time.”
But after the recent deaths of two inmates at the largest halfway house in the U.S., the federally-run Hope Village in Southeast, there’s been a lot of debate over whether inmates face unjust and far greater risks of contracting COVID-19 because of their living conditions and if their sentences should be commuted.
Based on the information we’ve been able to attain, neither of the deaths was related to the coronavirus but given their sharing of living quarters, bathrooms and eating meals together, their relatives and others are concerned about their welfare — and with good reason.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras recently declined a motion to order the release of some inmates after both D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) voiced their concerns. Still, the judge has ordered Hope Village to provide daily reports to the court that will include who has been tested at the halfway house for COVID-19.
White said three residents among the 50 at Hope Village have complained of coronavirus-like symptoms recently and Norton has sent a letter to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons asking that conditions at the facility be immediately investigated. Meanwhile, her request that “residents should be released as soon as practicable” appears to have been denied.
We cannot agree with more radical views of opening the gates for everyone but we are in support of Norton’s contention that as residents are already transitioning out of the criminal justice system and as most have served the majority of their sentences, releasing them a bit earlier for their safety would be in the best interest of all concerned.
With the coronavirus pandemic still on the rise, we must reconsider doing business as usual. These are clearly unusual times. Yes, justice should be served but not at the potential expense of one losing their life. This will not be the last time this subject is broached — and it should be reviewed very carefully.
After all, the men who now live at Hope Village were not sentenced to death.