NYS lawmakers explore COVID-19’s effect on jails and prisons

NY Capitol News

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — New York State lawmakers are looking into the impact the coronavirus had on jails and prisons. A virtual Senate hearing took place on Tuesday on the issue.

“Now that DOCCS is open for visitation and transfers, I want to make sure that our incarcerated population is safe. I want to make sure that our correctional staff have the tools, training and supplies they need to keep everyone healthy,” said state Senator Luis Sepúlveda.

The Acting Commissioner of the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Anthony Annucci, said the number of those incarcerated stands under 37,000 people and that a number of actions were taken from the beginning of the pandemic to maintain safety.

“…Removing non-essential staff from the workplace, the difficult decision of suspending visitation and programs, deploying masks to staff, and the incarcerated population to making hand sanitizers available,” Annucci said.

There have also been “early release opportunities” for certain people serving time. He said the Department has expanded testing, offering more than 13,000 COVID diagnostic tests to those incarcerated.

“The results were 773 positive cases, 11,201 negative cases. Also, the department has had 1,329 positive staff cases of which 98% have recovered and returned to work,” Annucci said.

In total, there have been 17 COVID-related fatalities of incarcerated individuals: five staff deaths and four parolee deaths. It’s a much different side-by-side comparison when you look at the toll the virus has taken on other congregate facilities like nursing homes. 

“It could have been a really huge problem for the state to have had this spread within our prison population,” said state Senator Betty Little. 

Due to low infection rates, DOCCS has also “gradually” reintroduced non-essential staff and resumed some vocational and academic programs.

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