DOC Commissioner sounds alarm as COVID positivity rate doubles in jails


NEW YORK — Only 38% of city inmates are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and with cases doubling in a single day, the head of New York City’s Department of Corrections is sounding the alarm.

The positivity rate at Riker’s Island is more than 17%, with less than half the inmates even partially vaccinated against the coronavirus. Both corrections officers and the Legal Aid Society are asking city leaders for help.

“Our concern is that Riker’s remains an unmitigated disaster,” Marie Ndiaye said.

The Legal Aid Society is now asking for the immediate release of incarcerated people, as well as a stop to admitting new inmates to city jails. Ndiaye said in addition to rapidly increasing infection levels, staffing shortages, violence and other chaos contribute to the disaster.

In a letter, the Department of Corrections called the crisis something “they cannot handle.”

Eighty-five percent of uniformed correction staff is vaccinated, in comparison to just 38% of inmates, according to city data. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the jail population was reduced by 700 people in the last few months, adding that a unit was added to isolate infected inmates from the rest of the prison population.

But Ndiaye, the supervising attorney for the Decarceration Project at the Legal Aid Society told PIX11 News that’s not enough to protect inmates from the omicron variant.

“The measure of whether we are decent society or not is how we treat those people that we incarcerate,” she said. “And we should not be treating them the way that we are right now.”

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