U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- Reports that Washington State plans to release nearly 1,000 “nonviolent offenders” to ostensibly “limit the spread of COVID-19 among the prison population” have Evergreen State gun owners alarmed, amid reports of rising property crimes and because gun shops have been left off the list of so-called “essential” businesses.
According to the Daily Olympian, Gov. Jay Inslee revealed the plan in a written statement. This came in the aftermath of a protest last week by some inmates at the Monroe Reformatory. Critics accuse the governor, a Democrat, of rewarding misbehavior by prisoners.
Using social media, gun owners have been expressing concerns about the release, and what it might mean to their communities.
The newspaper said the Department of Corrections (DOC) plan will “focus on five groups serving sentences for nonviolent crimes.” Among them, prisoners who are due for release within 2 to 6 months, prisoners who are vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, inmates incarcerated for lower-level supervision violations and those on work release.
But State Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane) thinks the idea is nuts. He released a statement explaining why.
Padden, ranking Republican on the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said this: “The people of this state are rightfully alarmed and upset by the Governor’s ill-advised decision to simply release hundreds of inmates who have yet to fulfill their debt to society. This was the most extreme option available to him in order to address the Washington Supreme Court’s order to protect inmates during the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition, it increases society’s risk by not only potentially increasing crime, but also increasing the spread of COVID-19.”
This is not a problem unique to Washington. Fox News is reporting, “Thousands of non-violent inmates have been released from jails in Los Angeles County to prevent the spread of coronavirus, but the county sheriff said Monday he’s now concerned about a potential future spike in crime.’
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva was recently sued in federal court by several gun rights organizations over his effort to shut down gun stores in the county. Prisoner releases have also been reported in Louisiana, New Jersey, and Detroit.
It is not lost on Washington citizens that the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in decisions by several county sheriffs and local police departments to “suspend” accepting applications for new concealed pistol licenses. Renewals are still being processed, but there has been a surge of gun-buying since the pandemic panic first set in more than a month ago, and there is no way to accurately estimate the number of people who would have applied but did not because their applications would not be accepted.
Despite Gov. Inslee’s failure to list gun shops as “essential,” several stores have remained open. The Tri-City Herald recently reported on a couple of those stores in the south-central part of the state, which is traditionally considered “gun country.” The newspaper noted that defiant Washington gun shops cite the Department of Homeland Security’s last month that included gun stores and employees as “essential.”
There is another reason for public concern over this prisoner release. Many people remember a downtown Seattle shooting between three known gang members that left one woman dead and several other people wounded in January. Two of the suspects in that rush hour gun battle were under DOC supervision at the time, having been convicted of prior felonies that disqualified them from possessing firearms.
Down in Utah, a 42-year-old man who was released from a halfway house early over coronavirus concerns was arrested after allegedly breaking into a woman’s home, threatening her with a knife and attempting to rob her. The woman’s son called police, who found the suspect in the woman’s bed, where he allegedly had told his victim to claim he was her lover. Arresting officers took him away.
The ACLU of Washington declared in its own press release, “The Governor’s actions to release a limited number of individuals from Washington state corrections facilities is a useful first step but does not eliminate the danger that individuals incarcerated in Washington state face due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge the Governor and the Department of Corrections to do more to reduce state prison populations which is the only way to follow the advice of public health experts and keep those living and working in our correctional facilities safe.”
The State Supreme Court “ordered the governor and the state’s Department of Corrections to ‘immediately exercise their authority to take all necessary steps to protect the health and safety’ of inmates in response to the COVID-19 outbreak,” according to KOMO News, the ABC affiliate in Seattle.
And now Inslee has announced a cooperative effort with the governors of Oregon and California—both Democrats—to start their own process of re-opening their states. May 4 is a tentative date Inslee had set for ending the “stay home” order, and if that holds true, it will have been nearly two months since gun owners could apply for new CPLs. It will be telling to see how much of a jump in CPLs will be recorded in June and July. At last count, there were more than 650,400 active licenses in the Evergreen State.
About Dave Workman