While many Americans have been forced to stay home to prevent further spread of coronavirus, there is one large sect of the population that simply doesn't have this option: inmates.
According to the New York Post, the NYC Department of Correction has reported a significant spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases within its prisons and jails. The were reportedly 103 NYC inmates who tested positive for the disease on Friday, exactly 30 more than what was reported Thursday. Among jail and prison staff, there were 80 confirmed cases as of Friday—a 22-person increase from 58.
As pointed out by the Post, the DOC has not confirmed that number of cases each facility, but notes that the majority have been found at Rikers Island. An inmate at the complex told the outlet that the staff has implemented social distancing measures, specifically during meal times; however, the close sleep quarters, communal showers, and shared toilets make it difficult for inmates to maintain adequate physical distance.
On Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the release of 1,100 parole violators across the state, citing concerns over coronavirus; nearly 150 of the soon-to-be-freed inmates were at Rikers.
"We’re releasing people who are in jails because they violated parole for non-serious reasons," Cuomo told MSNBC. "And wherever we can get people out of jails, out of prisons, now, we are."
Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) have introduced a bill that would free vulnerable inmates from federal prisons; the inmates would include those who are pregnant, those with underlying health issues, and those over the age of 50. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) introduced a companion bill in the House.
"For thousands of people behind bars, contracting COVID-19 is tantamount to a death sentence. Those in prison and jail tend to have much higher rates of underlying health issues than the general public, and the conditions of confinement make social distancing virtually impossible," Booker said. "We have an obligation to do everything we can to prevent the spread of this deadly disease, and that means moving certain incarcerated people to community supervision when they don’t pose a violent threat to our communities and are facing high risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19."