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Situation On Riker's Island “Unimaginably Bad” As COVID-19 Tears Through Prison

This weekend we reported that Harvey Weinstein had tested positive for coronavirus just days after being transported out of Riker’s Island prison in New York, where 38 people had been infected with COVID-19 and another 58 inmates were under observation.

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On Monday, Brooklyn public defender Scott Hechinger reported that conditions at the notorious prison are “unimaginably bad” thanks to the extremely tight quarters, lack of sanitation, and unavailability of protective medical gear.

See the rest below, or click above tweet to scroll through thread:

  • People trapped on Rikers right now are sleeping close enough to reach out and touch the next person.
  • People trapped on Rikers right now are being served food on dirty food trays.
  • There is one toilet for every 29 people trapped on Rikers Island right now.
  • People jailed on Rikers right now who are asking to be tested are not getting tested.
  • While eating, people on Rikers are forced to sit four to a table. No possibility of social distancing while sleeping or eating.
  • Those serving the food on Rikers are not wearing masks (and, therefore, possibly contaminating the food). The food also is coming in from other buildings increasing the likelihood of contamination.
  • After one of the people in their dorm tested positive for Coronavirus and was taken out, Rikers staff did not clean the general areas.
  • People are being housed with others with flu-like symptoms and there is no recourse. When people ask to be transferred to correctional health services, they are being told that there aren’t enough escorts.
  • Just spent the last hour talking to another colleague about Rikers conditions. “It is like a fucking slave ship. It makes me want to fucking cry. They can’t even wash their hands. It is insane that this day & age we treat human beings this way. This is shameful.
  • We heard from our social worker colleagues today that videoconferences w/ the people we represent on Rikers have now been suspended indefinitely. Were not allowed on the island. The only way we had to communicate & access information on the inside is now gone. I’m really worried.
  • Right now, there are 5,294 people jailed on Rikers. Mayor de Blasio today announced he agreed to release 75 people. He’s looking at a list (we have no idea who is on this list) of a couple hundred.
  • Imagine the feeling you have these days when you go to the grocery store. I’m wearing gloves & a mask. Even then, I’m keeping my distance. Social distancing in jail is impossible. Sanitation is non-existent. No gloves. No mask. Just hundreds of people coughing on each other.
  • 5,294 humans are locked up on Rikers already at extreme risk of contracting this deadly illness. With no precautions whatsoever. Nearly guaranteed to be exposed. And spreading that deadly illness to guards & other staff, who cycle in & out daily. Our leaders are doing NOTHING.
  • While we are taking steps to prevent COVID-19 infection in our community to stay inside, social distance, and be vigilant with sanitization, these efforts will be worthless if we don’t act rapidly to prevent infection in Rikers.
  • To stem the spread of this deadly virus, we must drastically reduce the number of people in jail and limit new admissions to exceptional circumstances. And we must do so now. This is a matter of life and death.
  • Significantly fewer people in jail (not 75, not hundreds, but thousands) will: Limit spread of COVID-19 infection among people in custody & those who work there. Minimize people in custody who will need medical care. Decrease density of housing areas for people who remain.
  • Governor Cuomo could do the same as New Jersey right now. On Rikers: 500+ are serving short jail sentences for low level offenses. He could grant clemency to all. 666 are jailed for technical parole violations. He could order parole to release them. Thats 1000+ like that.
  • Note how I’m not bringing up those jailed pretrial, presumed innocent, charged w/ misdemeanors & non-violent felonies. Why? Bail reform just enacted in January 2020 has kept 1000s charged w/ these low level offenses home w/ their families, jobs & homes, & free from Coronavirus.
  • But what about those jailed pretrial on “violent” felonies? Not one of them would be eligible for death if ever convicted. And no one. I repeat: NO ONE, deserves to be infected by a deadly virus by virtue of the deliberate indifference of those w/ the power to do something.
  • I’m exhausted.
  • I have to wrap this up.
  • If we all have, and most critically right now, our leaders, have the courage to do what is necessary and what is right, at some point, hopefully soon, this pandemic will be behind us. But we cannot then just go back to business as usual.
  • The spread of Coronavirus has exposed the inhumanity, waste, and danger of a criminal legal system that has completely ignored humanity and public.

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