At least one Florida county has decided to release non-violent jail inmates early to prevent the spread of COVID-19, prompting a victim advocacy group to demand law enforcement officials notify crime victims prior to the release.
Hillsborough County announced it would release hundreds of non-violent inmates early in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within jails.
The advocacy group, Marsy’s Law for Florida, sent letters to each of Florida’s 67 sheriffs asking them to continue prioritizing their constitutional duty to notify crime victims of the impending release of inmates, while taking any measures to address the potential spread of COVID-19. Notification of inmates’ release – whether early or on schedule – is now a constitutional right provided to Florida crime victims.
“We appreciate the risks taken and duties performed by our law enforcement officers in the midst of a crisis. And, while we understand that difficult decisions must be made, we want to make sure the interests of victims are also considered as we navigate this unprecedented situation,” said Sandi Poreda, Marsy’s Law for Florida Victim Outreach Coordinator. “Social distancing and quarantines may cause victims the added stress and potential harm of being isolated from resources and assistance. We’re imploring our sheriffs to help ensure victims do not also experience a potentially dangerous or even life-threatening encounter with a perpetrator they believed was still incarcerated.”
The group is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas of California who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Only one week after her death, Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas, walked into a grocery store where they were confronted by the accused murderer. The family, who had just come from a visit to Marsy’s grave, was unaware that the accused had been released on bail. In an effort to honor his sister, Dr. Nicholas, co-founder of Broadcom Corporation, has made it his mission to give victims and their families constitutional protections and equal rights. He formed Marsy’s Law for All in 2009, providing expertise and resources to victims’ rights organizations nationwide.
The group successfully advocated for a constitutional amendment that was passed by Florida voters in November 2018 and embedded in the Florida Constitution. The amendment requires that crime victims are provided with timely notice of any release, escape or death of the accused, if the accused is in custody or on supervision at the time of death.