As New York Coronavirus Metrics Worsen, State Prisons See Outbreaks

The Legal Aid Society urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state prison department to release inmates who are vulnerable to the coronavirus. The defense organization issued a statement saying each new case shows that the prison agency can’t contain the coronavirus.

By Ryan Tarinelli | December 03, 2020 at 06:13 PM          

Barbed wire fence at Men’s Correctional Facility. Photo: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

As New York faces a wave of new infections this autumn, about 20 state prisons have at least one active coronavirus case among their inmate population, state data shows.

Among the prisons, the largest virus outbreak currently appears to be at Attica Correctional Facility in Western New York, a region of the state where coronavirus cases have surged in recent weeks.

Attica has 45 inmates with active coronavirus cases, according to the latest figures from the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The department has 52 correctional facilities overall.

The Legal Aid Society on Wednesday urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state prison department to release inmates who are vulnerable to the coronavirus. For months, advocates for inmates have repeatedly called on the state to be more aggressive in releasing prisoners due to the pandemic.

Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the criminal defense practice at the organization, issued a statement saying each new case shows that the prison agency can’t contain the coronavirus. 

“Instead of releasing enough people to enable social distancing in its prisons, the State has ignored hundreds upon hundreds of applications for early release,” Luongo said in a statement. “This is indeed a matter of life or death. To prevent additional loss of life, Governor Cuomo and DOCCS must follow the lead of other states and release New Yorkers.”

More than 1,825 coronavirus cases have been reported among the inmate population at state prisons.

“For those who have been infected, the lingering effects and long-term complications of the virus remain unknown,” The Legal Aid Society said in a press release.

Meanwhile, officials at the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported that between Tuesday and Thursday, 55 inmates at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center tested positive for COVID-19. The new group of cases is more than double the total number of inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 between March 13 and Tuesday.

State prisons across New York are seeing coronavirus cases, with some facing more significant outbreaks among inmates.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Cayuga Correctional Facility had 19 active inmate cases while Clinton Correctional Facility had 15 and Bedford Hills Correctional Facility recorded seven, according to the latest data.

Visitation has been suspended at Elmira Correctional Facility, Greene Correctional Facility and Southport Correctional Facility, the state prison agency reported.

The department did not make a representative available for an interview Thursday. The agency did provide a written statement saying five prisoners are at an outside hospital because of the coronavirus. 

In the statement, the agency said it has developed an “asymptomatic surveillance testing plan” to allow a number of prisoners “from each facility to be tested every weekday, from multiple housing units.”

It was not immediately clear how expansive the plan would be.

In New York overall, key coronavirus figures have escalated in recent weeks. New York state officials on Thursday reported 9,855 new coronavirus cases.

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