Statement - Directly Impacted People, Community Groups Hold Protest Outside Elmira Correctional Facility to Bring Attention to Growing COVID-19 Crisis Behind Bars

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

Contact:

Emily NaPier Singletary, emily@weareunchained.org | (315) 243-5135

Yonah Zeitz, yzeitz@katalcenter.org | (347) 201-2768

 

Follow on Twitter @katalcenter #LessIsMoreNY

 

Directly Impacted People, Community Groups Hold Protest Outside Elmira Correctional Facility to Bring Attention to Growing COVID-19 Crisis Behind Bars 

 

Co-Author of the #LessIsMoreNY Act is Currently Incarcerated at Elmira Correctional Facility Where More than One-Third of Incarcerated People Have Tested Positive for COVID-19 

 

Groups Call on Gov. Cuomo and the State Legislature to Release Comprehensive Pandemic-Response Plan and Take Immediate Action - Decarcerate Now, Provide PPE to Incarcerated People, Ensure Communication with Families, Initiate Widespread Testing 


Elmira, NY: Today, dozens of community members -- including directly impacted people and community groups from across Central and Western New York and the Southern Tier -- gathered outside of Elmira Correctional Facility to bring attention to the growing COVID-19 crisis behind bars, and to demand action from Governor Cuomo and the state legislature. Unchained, which is based in Syracuse and co-leads the #LessIsMoreNY Campaign, participated in the action.

Derek Singletary, the Co-Executive Director of Unchained, is currently incarcerated at the Elmira prison where more than one-third of the incarcerated population has tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of October. Singletary co-authored the Less is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343C/A.5493B) and co-leads the campaign to pass the bill from behind bars.

 

Statement from Emily NaPier Singletary, Co-Executive Director of Unchained, on behalf of the #LessIsMoreNY Campaign: 

 

“The public health crisis at Elmira prison did not need to happen. We are nearly eight months into this pandemic, and the Governor, Legislature, and Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) have yet to take the threat of an outbreak behind bars seriously. Now our worst fears are being realized as more than 600 people -  one-third of the people locked up at Elmira - have tested positive for COVID in less than a month. This is a failure of leadership.

I have been visiting my husband Derek at Elmira twice a week since visits resumed on August 5, and officers were routinely walking throughout the prison without masks on, even as the area around the prison was experiencing a major community spread problem. When we complained about this, Derek was retaliated against and locked in his cell for 30 days over a false accusation that he was not wearing his mask properly while on a visit with me. The lieutenant who conducted the two disciplinary hearings and handed down the sanction did not wear a mask at either hearing.

Officers introduced the virus into the facility, and now incarcerated people and their families are the ones suffering. Incarcerated people are still not being given adequate PPE. Visits have been shut down again. And phone access is severely restricted as the facility is essentially locked down. No plan has been released to the public regarding how the prison plans to contain the spread or treat people who are already sick.

Had the #LessIsMoreNY Act been passed, New York would have had nearly 2,000 fewer people in its local jails and more than 4,000 fewer people in its state prisons when the pandemic began. This represents a 10 percent reduction in jail and prison populations that could be achieved simply by freeing people who are locked up for parole violations that are not crimes. Instead, people being caged on parole violations are trapped at Elmira wondering if being late for curfew or missing an appointment is going to result in a death sentence.

Governor Cuomo can remedy this immediately by using the executive power he used in March to free nearly 800 people accused of technical parole violations by releasing the remaining 5,000 people currently in jails and prisons across the state for the same infractions. And the Legislature must resolve this issue once and for all by passing the #LessIsMoreNY Act to ensure that even after the pandemic we are not reincarcerating people for things that are not crimes. In fact, the state must go even further than the #LessIsMoreNY Act and engage in widespread decarceration efforts regardless of the nature of the crime or the length of the sentence to save lives.”

 

Background: 

New York’s prison system is currently facing the largest COVID-19 outbreak thus far, as Elmira Correctional Facility in the Southern Tier has seen over 550 new COVID-19 cases. On October 19th, 78 incarcerated individuals in Elmira had tested positive for COVID-19 and within a couple of days the prison had experienced a more than fivefold surge in new COVID-19 cases. This is because jails and prisons are incubators of contagions. Due to close quarters and unsanitary conditions, it has been impossible for people inside to effectively follow the CDC guidelines of physical distancing and regularly washing hands and sanitizing in order to prevent the spread. 

Releasing people from jails and prisons—including those incarcerated for technical violations of parole— are preventative public health measures that must be taken to mitigate the public health crisis in New York’s jails and prisons. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) affirmed this in a new study that advises policymakers, corrections leaders, and public health officials to ramp up decarceration efforts in order to mitigate the continuing threat of COVID-19. Currently, there are over 5,000 people incarcerated in local jails and state prisons for technical violations of parole, being held in cages, and vulnerable to sickness and death.

Passing #LessIsMoreNY Act will lead to thousands fewer people incarcerated for technical violations, advancing the goal of decarceration and putting the state at the forefront of reforming the country’s parole crisis, while saving lives and keeping people safe. This is a public health imperative and it will also save New York over $600 million a year. 

 

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