More Freedom, Less Fear-mongering


Why reducing our prison and jail population during this public health crisis should be celebrated not attacked.

By Michael E. Novogratz

With the death toll of COVID-19 ticking up everyday, we have many things to be anxious about. Releasing people from jail and prison isn’t one of them. In fact, it will save lives and ultimately make us safer because in a pandemic, public health is public safety. We need to resist scaremongering headlines that say otherwise.

Both Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have promised New Yorkers that every life matters. Yet those behind bars — in our jails and prisons — often come last. New York has taken small steps to release 1,500 New Yorkers from Rikers Island, an epicenter within an epicenter for infection and death from COVID-19. Instead of applauding these efforts, the New York Post, just yesterday, published an article attacking their release — citing the statistic that 3% of the 1,500 people that were released committed a new crime.

There has always been backlash — rooted in racism and fear — to reasonable criminal justice reform. That the New York Post would peddle that same tired story in the midst of a pandemic that has disproportionately harmed communities of color is shameful.

I’d like to flip that number on it’s head. 97% of people released during COVID, New Yorkers whose lives were in danger, who could have become vectors to infect their families and communities, were released and nothing tragic happened. The sky did not fall, crime did not astronomically rise. What did happen was that during a moment of darkness we saved lives and reunited families. These were New Yorkers who during normal times would remain trapped in a cage, losing their jobs, kids, housing and more.

The 1,455 people who were released without incident are proof that we can make different choices for our New York City communities and families.

It’s also clear what those choices should be. As never before, COVID has laid bare the shortcomings of our social safety net, a safety net, those 50 people, and the thousands of other New Yorkers who are reincarcerated every year, desperately needed. Released in the middle of a pandemic, with no opportunity to find work and an already inadequate social safety net too sorely taxed to support their real needs — what did we expect to happen? If we had adequate housing, healthcare, and financial support for those 50 people, and so many other New Yorkers struggling to get by, how would those statistics change?

As an investor, you learn to never throw good money after bad, and instead to look for evidence of what’s working.

We know that incarceration hasn’t been working, we know how much it costs — $925 a night to incarcerate someone on Rikers — and how ineffective it is at making our communities safer. So why not focus less on investing in incarceration and instead invest in what we know actually makes communities and families safer — housing, healthcare, economic opportunity, and more — in this moment and always.

Governor Cuomo and Mayor Deblasio have taken a step in the right direction to release incarcerated New Yorkers. However much the New York Post and others might try to spin it, this is a success story, and one we badly need in the midst of this crisis. By releasing people from Rikers Island lives have been saved, particularly the lives of black and brown New Yorkers in the communities hardest hit by COVID 19, and we’ve had a glimpse at a different path forward. The numbers don’t lie.

Mike Novogratz is the founder and CEO of Galaxy Digital, an investment firm. He is also the founding board chair of the Bail Project and a partner in the Justice Reform Alliance.



Michael E. Novogratz
Galaxy Gives: Promoting Ideas for Justice

Mike Novogratz is the founder and CEO of Galaxy Digital. He is also the founding board chair of the Bail Project and a partner in the Justice Reform Alliance.