38 Positive for Coronavirus At Rikers, NYC Jails

New York City’s jails urged officials to start releasing vulnerable populations

The board overseeing New York City’s jails urged officials to start releasing vulnerable populations and those being held on low-level offenses as the coronavirus outbreak hit the notorious Rikers Island complex and nearby jails — infecting at least 38 people.

Another inmate, meanwhile, became the first in the country to test positive in a federal jail.

“Fewer people in the jails will save lives and minimize transmission among people in custody as well as staff,” Board of Correction interim chairwoman Jacqueline Sherman wrote in a letter to New York’s criminal justice leaders this weekend. “Failure to drastically reduce the jail population threatens to overwhelm the City jails’ healthcare system as well its basic operations.”

Sherman pushed for the release of more than 2,000 people in custody in New York City jails, including those over 50 years old; those with health conditions such as lung and heart disease; those being held for parole violations, such as missing a curfew; and those serving sentences of less than a year.

Such steps are needed, she said, to stem the tide of COVID-19.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said 23 inmates were set to be released Sunday, all older and at a low risk of offending again, and 200 additional inmates were being reviewed for release.

More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the United States — more than anywhere in the world — and there are growing fears that an outbreak could spread rapidly through a vast network of federal and state prisons, county jails and detention centers.

It’s a tightly packed, fluid population that is already grappling with high rates of health problems and, when it comes to the elderly and the infirm, elevated risks of serious complications. With limited capacity nationally to test for COVID-19, men and women inside worry that they are last in line when showing flu-like symptoms, meaning that some may be infected without knowing it.

The first positive tests from inside prisons and jails started tricking out just over a week ago, with less than two dozen officers and staff infected in facilities spanning from California and Michigan to Pennsylvania. New cases pop up almost every day.