A famous rapper, Tekashi69, was released four months before his original release date, sentenced to spend the final months in home confinement. Tekashi69, formally known as Daniel Hernandez, 23, was originally sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to various gang robberies and shootings. Due to the fact that the artist has asthma, he is at greater risk to adverse effects were he to contact Coronavirus, justifying his shortened sentence.
According to the New York Times, the judge, U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer, argued that “the pandemic presented ‘extraordinary and compelling reasons’ for a compassionate release of Mr. Hernandez, who, he wrote in his order on Thursday, ‘no longer will present a meaningful danger to the community if at liberty.’” Currently, people are wondering if he was released early because of his celebrity status or because he is immunocompromised.
Hernandez’s release comes at a controversial time, as criminal justice advocates and health officials alike are supporting the release of inmates to increase social distancing and decrease the spread of COVID-19. The New York Times describes this phenomenon with; “thousands of inmates and officers in municipal, state and federal facilities have already tested positive, and at least five inmates at federal facilities have died because of the coronavirus outbreak since March 28, according to the Bureau of Prisons.”
However, this decision to release Tekashi69 has led to backlash and questioning from other inmates, especially fellow high-profile inmates. Both R. Kelly and Bill Cosby have argued for at-home confinement to finish out their terms, without success. What is unique about rapper Tekashi69’s case is that he has had underlying health issues since the beginning, combined with his cooperation with authorities and the short remainder of his sentence. Some argue that if R. Kelly or Bill Cosby were released too, people might assume they are getting special treatment because of their fame. Therefore, judges are trying to exercise caution when it comes to early inmate releases, making sure they have a strong justification for each case.
Some states have decided to take broader strokes to address the risk of Coronavirus spreading in prisons by releasing a large number of inmates at once. An order was signed last week by the Chief Justice of New Jersey, Stuart Rabner, to release 1,000 inmates from county jails who committed low-level offences.
At the same time, some federal decisions have been made to prevent the further spread of Coronavirus. Mr. Barr, the Attorney General, has put an order in place to prioritize the release of inmates at three prisons, in Louisiana, Connecticut, and Ohio, which have reported high numbers of Corona cases. Last week, Mr. Barr
“Asked the bureau to identify and release all inmates who were eligible for home confinement, no longer posed a threat to the public, and were particularly vulnerable to the Coronavirus. After that directive, 522 of the system’s 146,000 total inmates were moved to home confinement, according to the Bureau of Prisons,” (New York Times).
Judges are asked to draw the line between who can be released early and who must stay in prison, in a fair yet timely manner. A prison in Chicago that currently obtains the most concentrated coronavirus cases in the United States, demonstrates the necessity to make these drastic changes. It is vitally important that judges take precautionary measures to prevent further spread of the disease, while also making equitable choices about who can be released and who must remain in prison to carry out their full sentences.