Four New York state district attorneys announced Monday that they support a “cite and release” approach toward offenses posing “no physical threat to the community” and the release of inmates particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Brooklyn’s Eric Gonzalez, Albany County’s David Soares and Ulster County’s David Clegg joined a nationwide group including 27 prosecutors from outside New York who say they’re open to major changes as the virus continues to spread in the United States.
The letter was organized by Fair and Just Prosecution, an organization focused on bringing together forward-thinking prosecutors.
In addition to the “cite and release” policy, the prosecutors also called for a dramatic reduction in immigration detention and humane jail conditions. Inmates who do remain in jail should have access to good medical care and communication with their lawyers and families, they said.
The New York City Board of Correction, which provides independent oversight for the city’s jail system, also called for the release of vulnerable inmates and an overall reduction in jail population Monday due to the coronavirus.
The board suggested prioritizing people over 50, people who are already ill, people jailed for “administrative reasons” like parole violations and people who are in city jails because their sentences were too short for state prison.
Public defenders and other advocates have been making similar calls for some time, as the danger and scale of the virus became more widely known.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday afternoon that the city is still figuring out how many people fall into the categories that may qualify for release from city jails, including those who are medically vulnerable and those who are at low risk for reoffending.
In addition to signing the prosecutors’ letter, Gonzalez released a statement confirming that he would decline to prosecute low-level offenses that don’t jeopardize public safety. He also asked public defenders to inform his office about which inmates are medically vulnerable and should be released.