State Watch

NY corrections officials warn of ’emerging COVID-19 crisis’ at Rikers Island

AP.

The commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections is warning city officials of an “emerging crisis” situation at Rikers Island prison, with COVID-19 cases among inmates rising at an alarming rate. 

In a letter, Department of Corrections commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said the COVID-19 positivity rate at Rikers was over 17% as of Tuesday. He added that the coronavirus infection rate among inmates nearly doubled overnight, according to NBC News.

“Our COVID positivity rate was consistently hovering at approximately 1%. Yesterday it was 9.5%. Today it is over 17%,” Schiraldi wrote in the letter.

He confirmed that “only 45% of our incarcerated population has received one shot of the vaccine, and only 38% is fully vaccinated.”

“The combination of these data indicates that the risks to the human beings in our custody are at a crisis level. As you are aware, considerable efforts were made at the beginning of the pandemic to reduce the jail population immediately in order to avert a major humanitarian catastrophe,” he added.

Schiraldi said in the letter that New York’s jail population faces an “equal or greater level of risk from COVID now as it did at the start of the pandemic.”

“I implore you to ask the courts to similarly consider every available option to reduce the number of individuals in our jail,” he said.

He added that congregate programs and services – including religious services and in-person visits – are suspended.

The New York Department of Corrections did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment. 

However, the union for correction officers laid the blame for the outbreak on the commissioner, and criticized him for enforcing a vaccine mandate on officers, but not on inmates and inmates, NBC4 reported.

The officers’ union COBA issued a statement accusing Schiraldi of “negligence” in response to the letter.

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