ALBANY — A criminal justice reform group urged state officials to conduct COVID-19 tests on all New York prison inmates Thursday as newly disclosed data revealed more than 70 new infections among older inmates.
The statistics were released by the Cuomo administration after CNHI pressed the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision for three successive days for updated data on a field of prison statistics that had not been refreshed in two weeks.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is directly responsible for oversight of the prison system, with the current commissioner, Anthony Annucci, being his appointment.
AGE 55 AND OLDER
The Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, the reform group attempting to monitor the virus spread in the prisons, also urged legislative leaders in Albany to convene hearings on the infection risks in the facilities.
State officials said Thursday that all inmates ages 55 and older have now been tested for the virus, citing tests administered to 3,922 prisoners in recent weeks.
But David George, director of Release Aging People in Prison, said there are more than 5,300 inmates in that age group, pointing to data from the Vera Institute for Justice, a nonprofit group that supports prison reform.
He said the latest testing means more than 2% of older inmates have acquired the infection, with the state’s own data showing the turnaround time for getting results back on inmate tests has been running significantly longer than that of tests for other New Yorkers.
HIGHEST CASE COUNTS
The new state data shows a total of 1,307 DOCCS employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, a contagion that has been particularly threatening in densely populated living situations, such as prisons.
The prisons with the highest numbers of inmates who have tested positive are: Fishkill (103); Green Haven (72); Otisville (54); Shawangunk (47); Bedford Hills (45); Sing Sing (43); and Wallkill (38).
A total of 16 inmates have died from virus infections since March. Out of the 601 inmates who have tested positive, 524 have recovered, according to state data.
Commenting on testing of inmates, Cuomo said outbreaks at prisons outside New York prompted New York officials to “go just test everybody 55 and older even if they are asymptomatic.”
Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, said the inmates who tested positive were quarantined.
Prison officials have also been limiting the transportation of inmates as well as keeping some restrictions on visits to inmates.
The risk of transporting inmates from one facility to another was dramatically illustrated in March when convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein, 68, a nationally known film producer, tested positive for the virus shortly after arriving at Wende Correctional Facility near Buffalo shortly after he was taken there from Rikers Island in New York City, CNHI revealed at the time. Weinstein remains at Wende, state records show.
In another pandemic development Thursday, the state Court of Appeals said the ongoing virus threat has made it impractical to hold an in-person bar exam, so the test will be administered online Oct. 5 and 6 to those seeking to practice law.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com.