January 2, 2021: New York, New York
SIX INCARCERATED PEOPLE HAVE DIED OF COVID-19 IN NY STATE PRISONS IN LAST THREE WEEKS AMID COVID SURGE
Today, the NY State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision reported that two incarcerated people at Coxsackie prison died of COVID-19. They represent the fifth and sixth incarcerated people in NY State prisons to die of COVID-19 in the last three weeks. In response, the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, Parole Preparation Project, and the #HALTsolitary Campaign released the following statement:
“Incarcerated people and their families are starting the new year with a COVID-19 nightmare. Six incarcerated New Yorkers have died of the virus in the last three weeks of 2020. Despite these tragedies and repeated calls from advocates and attorneys for people in prison, district attorneys, medical experts, state and federal lawmakers, philanthropists, and even celebrities for Governor Cuomo to grant life-saving clemencies, Cuomo is failing to take real action. Therefore, state lawmakers must step up and pass COVID-related reforms, including the Elder Parole bill, Fair and Timely Parole Act, and the HALT Solitary Confinement Act to prevent more needless deaths behind bars.”
BACKGROUND: The New York State prison system reported the 24th death of an incarcerated person, this time two people at Coxsackie Correctional Facility, on December 31, 2020. Previously, DOCCS reported that an incarcerated person died of COVID-19 at Wende on December 30, another at Auburn on December 29, another at Clinton Correctional Facility on December 22, and another at Woodbourne Correctional Facility on December 17.
Since December 1, 1,310 incarcerated people have tested positive for COVID-19. There are currently outbreaks of the virus at Attica, Bedford Hills, Bare Hill, Clinton, Woodbourne, Groveland, Cayuga, and Walsh Correctional Facilities.
Through nearly nine months of the pandemic so far, Governor Andrew Cuomo has granted a total of ten clemencies to New Yorkers in prison–fewer clemencies than President Donald Trump and governors in California, Illinois, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and other states across the country. Cuomo has refused to take action despite calls from advocates, attorneys, family members of people in prison, public health experts, Members of Congress, district attorneys and philanthropists, editorial boards, and high profile celebrities for him to grant wide-sweeping clemencies to people in prison in response to the virus. Instead of granting clemencies, Governor Cuomo has condemned thousands to solitary confinement, which only exacerbates the harm and spread of COVID-19.
There are many thousands of people in New York State prisons who are eligible for parole release, aged 50 and older, or imprisoned on a non-criminal technical parole violation, and/or within a year of their release date:
- 4,022 people who are already eligible for parole release
- 3,305 people held on technical parole violation
- 8,291 people aged 50 and older
- 6,524 within a year of max/condition release (including 5 women with infants who are part of the Bedford Hills nursery program and one pregnant woman)
Advocates have also called for lawmakers in Albany to pass three bills that will address this pandemic and prevent similar tragedies in the future:
- Elder Parole would allow the State Board of Parole to provide an evaluation for potential parole release to incarcerated people aged 55 and older who have already served 15 or more years, including some of the state’s oldest and sickest incarcerated people.
- Fair and Timely Parole would provide more meaningful parole reviews for incarcerated people who are already parole eligible.
- The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act would end the torture of prolonged solitary confinement and replace it with more humane and effective alternatives while still allowing for true medical isolation as needed.