Crimes of Conviction Should Not Drive Prison Health Policy


Professor Martha Rayner wrote an op-ed for New York Law Journal on the New York response to health and safety in prisons during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, when asked at his daily press conferences about the health and safety of people locked-up in his state prisons, claims all necessary steps are being taken. That’s not true. Although the governor directed that those over age 55 and within 90 days of completing their sentences will be released early, he has exempted those of the same age and the same mere months from release, if the underlying crime is deemed a “violent offense” or “sex crime.”

The policy recognizes that this prison demographic faces increased risk during the COVID-19 crisis and release is necessary to protect them, correctional staff and stop the spread in state prisons. The policy hardly goes far enough in protecting older prisoners, but then carving out an exception that does not advance public health or safety is irrational.

The governor seeks to be a beacon of leadership during the COVID-19 crisis. He has urged decision making based on science and facts and has preached compassion and kindness. But, in making decisions to protect men and women in his prisons he has reflexively reverted to being guided by the fear of appearing weak on violent crime.

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