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Board of Correction Calls for the Release of Inmates, Aims to Prevent Transmission of Coronavirus

Rikers Island (Wikimedia Commons)

March 17, 2020 By Christian Murray 

The New York City Board of Correction is calling on New York City to release prisoners deemed at high risk from the COVID-19 virus.

The board says that it should reduce the prison population by identifying and potentially releasing people over the age of 50; those with underlying health conditions; people detained for administrative reasons—such as parole violations; and people serving sentences less than one year.

The board–established by the city’s charter to provide independent oversight to ensure more humane jails–says the administration must reduce the prison population and limit new admissions unless there are exceptional circumstances.

It says city jails have difficulty preventing disease transmission on normal days let alone during a public health crisis.

“The city can follow the leads of Los Angeles County and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which have already begun to release people to minimize a potential outbreak,” the board said in a statement. “The city must begin this process now. The city’s jails have particular challenges to preventing disease transmission on a normal day and even more so during a public health crisis.”

The board is urging the city to work with District Attorneys, the Defense Bar and the judiciary to identify all detained New Yorkers who can be released. It also calls on the Department of Correction and Correctional Health Services to provide COVID-19 screenings.

The idea was ridiculed by the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association.

“It’s very sad that we have to remind the Board of Correction that their mandate, per the city’s Charter, is to advocate for the welfare of everyone in the Correction Department, not just inmates,” said Elias Husamudeen, the organization’s president, in a statement.

“Their latest asinine proposal to start letting inmates out of jail who are ‘high risk’ to this virus—regardless of their risk to public safety is beyond irresponsible,” Husamudeen said. “Instead of recklessly letting inmates out, call for the city to ramp up its efforts to bring in more masks, gloves, hand sanitizers and other vital supplies for the men and women who must also put their health at risk by showing up to work every day, providing care, custody, and control.”

The Mayor’s office told the Daily News that it is concerned about the welfare of inmates and workers.

“As the situation continues to evolve, we are having hour-by-hour conversations regarding what is best for the health and safety of those in our care, and will have more to say soon,” a spokesperson told the publication.

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