A registrant died yesterday in a Florida jail. He was put into that jail about 60 days ago because he forgot to report his new home address to local law enforcement.
The price he paid for his forgetfulness was death. Death due to exposure to the coronavirus.
A local public defender tried to get this man released from jail. The public defender knew the risk of infection in that jail was high because more than 20 people, including inmates and staff, had already been infected.
The prosecuting attorney also knew the risk of infection in that jail was high as well the minor reason that registrant had been sent to jail. So did the judge.
And yet the judge condemned the registrant to death by refusing to release him.
The message of this sad story is clear. The punishment does not fit the crime.
There is no jury in this nation, if asked, that would condemn a man to death because he forgot to report his new home address. Nor should they.
Forgetting to update your home address should be treated as an infraction at the most. The registrant should have received a “ticket” from law enforcement telling him to remember to report his new home address next time in a timely manner. And perhaps pay a small fine of $25.
When I looked at the registrant’s photo online, I saw his cloudy green eyes and sad face. I saw that he needed a haircut and a shave. I guessed that he hadn’t bathed regularly. I also noticed that he didn’t have a car. Perhaps it was his apparent lack of resources that were a factor in why he didn’t report his new home address.
There are many more registrants who are currently facing the threat of infection to the corona virus. In fact, it is conservatively estimated that there are thousands of registrants currently held in jails and prison, some of whom did nothing more than forget to update their home address, the name of their employer or their automobile.
There is an even larger number of registrants, perhaps more than 750,000, who face the threat of infection outside of jail and prison because they are required to register in person. Although their exposure to infection is more limited, any exposure to coronavirus is unnecessary because there are alternative effective methods by which a person can register.
In fact, there are a few jurisdictions that have already started registration using alternative methods. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department which supervises more than 3,900 registrants will only register individuals by phone. The state of Oregon is also registering individuals by phone while the state of Pennsylvania is registering individuals by mail.
For those who continue to require in-person registration and to incarcerate individuals who do not pose a current danger to society our warning is this: there will be blood on your hands. You will ultimately be held responsible for the death of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who die a painful death due to exposure to the coronavirus. And remember, one or more of those who die could be someone you love.
— by Janice Bellucci
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