Staff shortages leave 20% of Riker detainees under quarantine, slowing isolation efforts

One of the largest prison facilities on Rikers Island is undergoing closure as a result of widespread exposure to COVID-19, the latest fallout from Ongoing crisis that impeded prison operations and undermined efforts to reduce the prison population.

The mandatory quarantine affects the 900 people incarcerated at Otis Bantum Correctional Center, one of two facilities Mayor Bill de Blasio visited on Monday, as well as nearly 300 others scattered across other prisons on the island.. The designation went into effect last week, but the mayor didn’t mention it during his press conference about Rikers.

Correctional Health Services spokeswoman Janet Merrill said this is the first time an entire prison facility has been placed under quarantine since the start of the pandemic. She attributed this unprecedented measure to the shortage of staff, which prevented the Correction Department from working properly Monitor new arrivals detainees waiting for family on Rikers Island.

“The DOC has not been able to maintain the integrity of CHS’s COVID containment strategy – that is, timely testing and collection or harboring of patients,” Merrill wrote in an email. “Many patients who test positive when taking the drug will likely have many other patients who were waiting to be seen and/or housed.”

de Blasio has Promote the progress of the city In the prison installation, amid mounting in Self-harm and violence Among the detainees, along with Absenteeism rampant by correctional officers. But many people incarcerated on Rikers Island say any improvements have been hampered by the bloated COVID-related lockdowns.

As of Wednesday, more than 20% of detainees in the 6,000-person prison complex were being quarantined due to “possible exposure” to the virus – meaning they had not tested positive or developed symptoms, but were believed to have been in close contact with another person. known case. This percentage represents a significant increase from late July, when only 1% of detainees were considered exposed.

Quarantine also prevented an increasing number of detainees from attending court dates needed to be removed from the island. Laura Erasso, a public attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said she and other attorneys have “a long list of clients who have not been able to get to court, even virtually, for initial hearings.”

In a phone call Thursday, one detainee, who asked to be identified only as Alfred, said he was due to agree to a plea deal this week that would get him out of Rikers and transfer to a substance abuse treatment program. Instead, he struggled in a unit he says lacks any corrections officers and is “getting worse”.

People are being stabbed left and right here. “I feel like a hostage,” he said. “I’ve never been so excited to go to court in my life.”

While Governor Cathy Hochhol Sign an executive order This week aimed at increasing virtual prison hearings, defense attorneys said the policy was not having much of an impact. Many detainees still need to be flown across the island by correctional staff to access the video kiosks – something that hasn’t happened during the quarantine period.

Correction department has Lowest reported vaccination rate among city agencies, with only 48% of employees receiving a single dose as of last Friday. The numbers are lower for detainees: 41.3% had received a single shot as of September 17, the last day for which data was available.

However, some detainees still see the quarantine not as a safety precaution, but as an attempt to isolate them from the outside world. William Sanford, a 35-year-old detainee, said his unit of 21 people has been forced into isolation for more than a month, despite the fact that none of them have been tested or shown symptoms since August.

The classification means he has not been able to visit with his wife or eight-month-old son, although the city has officially lifted its ban on in-person visits during the summer.

“It’s easy for them to say, ‘OK, you’ve been revealed,'” Sanford said. “Then they can get away with a lot of things. No visits, no court, nothing. All we can do is suffer and wait.”

Inquiries were not returned to the Department of Correction and the Mayor’s Office.

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