COVID-19 pandemic is not an excuse to empty prisons

Published 2:41 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2020

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In America today, millions of churchgoers are not allowed to practice their faith in their place of worship, and certain business owners are not allowed to welcome customers, but hardened criminals are being released from prison. This insanity is producing predictably deadly results.

Under the guise of protecting prisoners from the spread of COVID-19, large numbers of dangerous criminals are being freed from custody. This is creating a horrific situation that is endangering the public and has now led to the death of a witness in a rape case.

In Alexandria, Va., rape suspect Ibrahim E. Bouaichi was released from prison in April because of concerns that he would contract COVID-19. Even though Bouaichi was indicted on serious charges such as rape, sodomy, abduction, strangulation and burglary, former presiding Circuit Court Judge Nolan Dawkins ordered his release on a $25,000 bond.

Despite the warnings from prosecutors that Bouaichi was a danger to the community, Dawkins released him to home confinement. This was an incredibly unwise decision because he was a danger to not only the community at large, but also to an especially vulnerable individual, Karla Elizabeth Dominguez Gonzalez, who accused him of rape last December and testified against him.

Sadly, on July 29, Ms. Dominguez was found shot to death. Local law enforcement authorities identified Bouaichi as her murderer. Last week, he was spotted by police, and a chase ensued that led to a car crash. Bouaichi shot himself before he could be apprehended by police. He is currently in critical condition in the hospital.

None of this tragedy needed to happen. If Bouaichi would have been kept in prison, where he belonged, his accuser would still be alive, and taxpayers would not be paying for the medical care of a murder suspect in critical condition.

This disturbing trend of releasing prisoners and endangering the public has been going on all over the country since the beginning of this pandemic. Liberals are using the fear of COVID-19 to accomplish their goal of emptying the prisons.

There has been an undue concern for the health of prisoners during this pandemic. In fact, the priority should not be the health of prisoners, but the safety of the public.

It is extraordinarily reckless to release hardened criminals from prison, regardless of the spread of COVID-19. Our nation’s public health officials are constantly recommending masks as a way for the American people to stay safe. Thus, prison officials should distribute masks to all inmates, keep them socially distant whenever possible and liberally provide hand sanitizers. If this strategy works for the law-abiding public, it should work for prisoners as well.

Instead, menacing criminals like Bouaichi are being released and innocent people like Ms. Dominguez are being killed. The authorities involved in this tragedy, such as Judge Dawkins, have blood on their hands.

In the past few months, thousands of criminals have been discharged from prison, needlessly endangering the public at large. It is one of the reasons that crime has been increasing in America recently.

For example, in mid-March, Joseph Williams was one of 150 inmates released from prison in Hillsborough County, Fla., because there was worry that inmates would become infected with COVID-19. Several days later, local sheriff deputies arrested Williams for his involvement in a homicide that took place one day after his release from prison. He was charged with second-degree murder. According to Chad Chronister, the sheriff of Hillsborough County, “There is no question Joseph Williams took advantage of this health emergency to commit crimes while he was out of jail.”

In April, a convicted child molester, Rudy William Grajeda Magdaleno, was released from prison in Orange County, Calif. The reason for the release was concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, just two weeks later, Magdaleno was arrested again after exposing himself to others at a parole resource center.

By the end of August, California will release 8,000 inmates from incarceration to lessen the spread of COVID-19 within their prison facilities. Supposedly, prison officials are releasing only those offenders who are non-violent or near the end of their sentence. Unfortunately, it seems these criteria are being expanded at the expense of public safety.

In July, California prison officials released Tereba Williams, who still had 64 years left on her sentence. She was convicted of murdering Kevin Ruska in 2001. In this gruesome case, Williams held Ruska at gunpoint, forced him into a car trunk, shot him, drove him 750 miles away, tied him up and left him to die in a motel room in the state of Washington. He was dead before he was eventually found.

Her release was not well received by Mr. Ruska’s family. His cousin, Karri Phillips, said that “It’s appalling to me everything that’s been allowed to happen. I don’t think for one second she’s going to walk out there a changed person. She’s not.” Unfortunately, all of Mr. Ruska’s family now must worry about this irresponsible release. Since she was convicted of murder, Williams should not have been released under any circumstances.

Along with the push toward mail-in ballots, shutting down the schools and the economy and the non-stop health warnings, another consequence of the over-reaction to COVID-19 has been the incredibly reckless release of violent criminals from prison. It has put the public at unnecessary risk, while besmirching the memory of innocent victims and injuring their family members once again. To say the least, our country’s priorities are completely out of order.

Jeff Crouere is the host of “Ringside Politics,” which airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 10 p.m. Sunday on WLAE-TV 32, a PBS station, and 7 a.m. till 11 a.m. weekdays on WGSO 990 AM in New Orleans and the Northshore. He is the political analyst for WGNO-TV ABC 26 and a columnist for selected publications. For more information, visit his web site at E-mail him at