COVID-19 Enters the New York and Federal Prison Systems

COVID-19 Enters the New York and Federal Prison Systems

At least 38 people – likely more by the time you read this – have been infected with the coronavirus in New York’s Riker’s Island and other city jails. Roughly half are inmates, while others are employees. While the response to the pandemic has ground American and global life to a halt, inmates are among the most vulnerable populations. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that 23 low-level inmates had been released as of March 22 to slow the spread of the disease within the jail population, and the release of another 200 inmates is currently under review. 

First Federal Inmate Positive

Also, in New York City, the first federal inmate tested positive for coronavirus. This inmate was housed at the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn. According to the U.S. Bureau of Prison, the inmate complained of chest pains last week and, while hospitalized, was tested for the virus. He came up positive and was immediately placed in isolation. 

All inmates housed in this person’s area are now in quarantine, and the site was thoroughly sanitized. Staff members in contact with him as also in quarantine. As of yet, no staffers in the facility have tested positive. 

However, that is not the case in other federal prisons. Staff members in Leavenworth, Kansas and Grand Prairie, Texas are positive for the disease, as per the Bureau of Prisons. These employees did not have direct contact with inmates. 

The union representing staff at the Metropolitan Detention Center called on the Bureau of Prisons to stop the transfer of inmates from one prison to another in light of the coronavirus, as such movements could cause the virus to spread. 

New York Hot Spot

New York City is the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. As of March 23, there were 13,119 confirmed cases, with 125 fatalities. It is likely the city will prove the epicenter of inmate-related cases and deaths as the weeks pass.

In a letter to New York’s criminal justice leaders, Board of Correction interim chairwoman Jacqueline Sherman warned that failing to “drastically reduce” the jail population will not only overwhelm the jails' healthcare system, but the entire system’s underlying operations. 

She urged the release of at least 2,000 people currently in custody. These are inmates over 50, as well as those with underlying lung and heart problems. These are the people most likely affected by COVID-19. Also on her list of potential releasees are those whose sentences are less than a year and those in jail for minor parole violations.

Harvey Weinstein Diagnosed

Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, 68, sentenced recently to 23 years for sex crimes, has tested positive for coronavirus and is being in isolation in an upstate New York prison. Weinstein reportedly has underlying health issues, and used a walker when appearing in the courtroom during his trial. 

While there has been criticism of celebrities receiving coronavirus tests even when asymptomatic while ordinary citizens with symptoms have been unable to get tested, Weinstein’s testing is warranted. A known positive inmate should not interact with others in prison. 

Did You or a Family Member Contract Coronavirus While in Jail?

Our jail injury lawyers are currently investigating claims that inmates contracted coronavirus while in jail. While there are many variables to these cases, we are most interested in inmates who died or suffered permanent injuries as the result of exposure to coronavirus while in jail. (We also are interested in any claims of prison staff who died or suffered permanent injuries as the result of coronavirus contracted in jail although proving where the virus was contracted will be more difficult. Typically, staff claims are considered workers compensation claims.)

For more information, please visit our jail medical neglect information page. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online or by email at [hidden email].

Although we try and answer every call, we are often overwhelmed and can’t return every call. Please be sure you leave a detailed message and note that we limit our practice to wrongful death, very serious injury cases, inmate miscarriages and sexual assaults by prison staff.

*About Brian Mahany. Brian is both a former corrections officer and police officer. Brian uses his training and experience to cut through bureaucratic bs and government coverups.

We do not believe that all cops and guards are bad people. We do not hesitate, however, to vigorously prosecute cases where officers and medical staff use excessive force or fail to provide adequate care. Everyone has a right to expect quality care, respect, and dignity.


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