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The Legal Aid Society’s most recent analysis of COVID-19 rates in 14 state prisons found that in just eight days 142 new cases brought the total to 2,040, which they are asking the governor to do. Andrew Cuomo to remedy the situation by claiming it was preventable through congestion reduction efforts.
Those eligible for release, under Legal Aid recommendations, are those who are within 90 days of their release date and are serving sentences for non-violent, non-gender offenses.
“This shameful milestone was totally avoidable if Governor Cuomo and [Department of Correction and Community Supervision] has responded to calls from lawyers, medical professionals and other experts for the immediate decarceration of medically vulnerable people, ”said Stefen Short, supervising lawyer of the Prisoner Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society. “In the absence of meaningful intervention from Governor Cuomo or DOCCS, it is evident that the situation will only get worse and the consequences will be even more tragic. The state must act immediately to free those who are medically vulnerable. ”
According to DOCCS, however, Legal Aid’s claims in the analysis required additional context and the agency is currently following guidelines issued by the state’s health ministry.
“To put the legal aid ‘conclusion’ in context, as of December 11, 2020, there were only 249 current positive cases in DOCCS establishments, while 1,773 people, or about 88% of the number they cite. , have already recovered since the start of this pandemic, ”DOCCS spokesperson Thomas Mailey said. “Due to the significant increase in COVID-19 infections at the Attica, Auburn and Cayuga prisons, visits to all three facilities have been temporarily suspended until further notice. Programs are currently suspended, but some programs will be changed in order to continue working. The Department has also deployed rapid tests for staff. ”
Meanwhile, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called on the city’s Corrections Department Deputy Chief of Staff Dana Wax to answer a number of questions about the measures in place nine months after the start of the pandemic. .
After reporting to his office that prisons have reportedly reached 96% capacity and that certain mask and sanitary protection measures were not being followed, Ocasio-Cortez asked DOC to report on the safety of inmates.
“However, over the past few months we have learned that there are several additional protective measures that must be put in place to prevent an outbreak. These measures include wearing headwear, washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, and avoiding close contact. In addition, the EPA “recommends increasing ventilation with outside air and air filtration” to reduce the “potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19”. I am writing now to verify if the Department of Corrections is adhering to these guidelines, ”Ocasio-Cortez said.
Leaky roofs, poor ventilation and scarcity of health care resources were also among the concerns expressed in the letter to which the MP had a number of questions for DOC. His list of questions included the following:
Do detainees receive enough soap to wash their hands well several times a day?
Do the facilities actually have a 96% capacity?
Do detainees have access to consistent, high-quality health care?
Are the facilities sufficiently ventilated to reduce the likelihood of virus transmission in accordance with EPA guidelines?
How often are detained persons tested?
Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the letter to a Monday morning press conference in which he said his administration not only cleared the crowd in DOC detention, but the infection rate was lower in the prisons only among the general public.
“As we were facing the first wave, the great unknown, everyone was trying to make sense of this situation, this city made a bold decision. By working with the DAs, by working with the state, we finally got around 1,600 inmates out of our prison system as a protective measure, given what was happening in a different situation then, ”said de Blasio. . “Now, thank God, correctional health is much better placed to fight the virus because everyone has learned so much more, we have a lot of space that we are using because the population, especially the Rikers, has become so small that we have a lot of space available to disperse people. We screen everyone who enters, whether an employee or an inmate, to make sure we know their situation. It’s a much, much better situation.
The statements come as New York City received its first batch of Pfizer-produced COVID-19 vaccine, which Governor Andrew Cuomo presented on Monday morning as the first health worker was injected.