New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised last week to release people who are imprisoned “because they violated parole for nonserious reasons” as part of the state’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. But at least 547 remain imprisoned at Rikers Island for technical parole violations — noncriminal matters like missing a curfew or failing to notify a parole officer of an address change — according to a lawsuit filed by The Legal Aid Society on Friday.
At least 100 of these people are at a high risk of severe illness or death if infected with the virus, Legal Aid attorney Corey Stoughton wrote in the complaint petitioning for their release, which she shared with HuffPost before filing. Continuing to imprison people on parole warrants who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 “constitutes deliberate indifference to the risk of serious medical harm in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and state constitutional right to due process,” Stoughton continued.
As of Friday, there were at least 239 incarcerated people and 273 staff members in New York City’s jails with confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Rikers Island is one of the most dangerous places to be during the current public health crisis. The rate of COVID-19 infection in NYC jails is about nine times higher than the city’s rate, according to Legal Aid’s data analysis.
The city’s corrections department has continued bringing new prisoners into Rikers, even after it became clear that the jail complex was battling an outbreak. Prisoners are physically handled by corrections officers who enter and leave the facility daily and who could be asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
“When staff and officers and others are coming in and out, we just cannot make a commitment that we can protect [incarcerated people],” Rachel Bedard, a doctor who provides medical care for elderly and sick prisoners at Rikers, told The New Yorker. “It’s not a...