Advocates call on Gov. Cuomo to put changes to bail reform on hold

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)-Advocacy groups say rolling back New York’s bail reform laws would put thousands at risk for catching or spreading the coronavirus. They also say N.Y. prisons are a breeding ground for the virus and are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to expedite the release of non-violent offenders over 50-years-old or with pre-existing medical conditions.

Two digital rally’s Monday urged the governor to put changes to the bail reform act on hold, to work on releasing vulnerable people already in N.Y. prisons, and to put more protocols in place to protect inmates.

Family members of inmates say their incarcerated family members are scared and not being kept abreast of changes taken to combat the coronavirus within the prison. Family members say without programs, recreation, and adequate medical care including mental health services prisoners are fearful and suffering.

Michelle Lind says her husband underwent a month of chemotherapy for prostate cancer and has a life expectancy of approximately five years. She spoke directly to Governor Cuomo saying, “Don’t let my husband die- please don’t let my husband die.”

Lavonia Scaggs says she’s seen a decline in her asthmatic daughter’s mental health. Scaggs’ daughter is in one of the state’s three women’s prisons. She says her daughter has no faith in the prison systems’ ability to protect her in the event of an outbreak.

Advocates say rolling back bail reform would put thousands more in danger. They say the state should be trying to reduce its number of incarcerated individuals because of the threat of COVID-19. They also say N.Y.’s bail reform legislation is in its infancy. They say if changes are going to be made they should be put on hold until after the budget has been passed.

All groups agree N.Y. prisons are ill-equipped to deal with a coronavirus outbreak. They say close quarters, combined with a lack of personal hygiene products including hand sanitizer along with employees not using proper protection create the perfect storm. They used the coronavirus outbreak in New York City’s Riker’s Island as an example of what could happen in prisons across the state.

Deplorable, unsanitary and inhumane conditions in our state correctional facilities guarantee that the spread of coronavirus will be rapid and lethal. Practices like frequent hand-washing, social distancing and self-quarantine are impossible in New York State prisons. Dormitory-style living quarters, lack of access to basics like showers, soap and water, threats of violence from correctional officers and staff, infrequent and limited communication with the outside world, substandard or nonexistent medical care, and a lack of educational resources and access to media are the toxic norm behind bars.

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Parole Preparation Project
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The number of coronavirus cases continues to increase at Riker’s Island. The Legal Aid Society of New York City says the infection rate at Rikers Island is 3%, as opposed to the state rate of .31% and the New York City rate of .40%. More than 400 low-level non-violent inmates have been released from prisons already in New York City as the city deals with the largest outbreak in the state, according to Reuters.

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