Statement - First COVID-19 Death of a Human Being Detained at Rikers Island Jail Complex Highlights Urgent Need to Immediately Release People

For Immediate Release: Monday, April 6th, 2020

Contact

Downstate: Yan Snead, ysnead@katalcenter.org | (518) 360-1534

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

Follow online: Twitter #LessIsMoreNY  web: www.lessismoreny.org

 

First COVID-19 Death of a Human Being Detained at Rikers Island Jail Complex Highlights Urgent Need to Immediately Release People 

 

Michael Tyson, Aged 53, Detained on Rikers for Alleged Technical Violation of Parole, Died at Bellevue Hospital of COVID-19

Directly Impacted People, Constituents, and Community Groups Demand the Governor and the Legislature Immediately Release Incarcerated Individuals and Pass #LessIsMoreNY

 

Statement by groups leading the #LessIsMoreNY Campaign 

 

New York, NY – This morning THE CITY reported the tragic death of 53-year-old Michael Tyson due to COVID-19. Michael Tyson had been detained on Rikers Island since February 28th as he waited for a hearing for an alleged technical parole violation. On March 26th, a day before Governor Cuomo announced plans to release people incarcerated in local jails for technical parole violations, Mr. Tyson was moved from the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers Island to Bellevue Hospital. He died on Sunday. 

Since his March 27th announcement, Governor Cuomo has not released any data or information regarding the proposed 1100 individuals who supposedly were to be released; whether Mr. Tyson was on the list for people to be released is not yet publicly known.  

In the face of this public health crisis, this tragedy underscores how unconscionable it was for Governor Cuomo and lawmakers in Albany to not include the #LessIsMoreNY Act (Less Is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343B - Benjamin / A.5493A - Mosley)) in this year’s budget.  Right now, as the COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging communities across the state, there are over 5,000 people incarcerated in local jails and state prisons for technical violations of parole, being held in cages, and subjected to sickness and death.  If the #LessIsMoreNY Act was passed, thousands fewer people would be incarcerated for technical violations and lives would be saved. 

There are currently 273 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among incarcerated individuals in New York City jails. Mr. Tyson shouldn’t have been on Rikers; no one should be on Rikers, and those jails should be shut down. We cannot wait for more people to die. Releasing people from jails and prisons—including those incarcerated for technical violations of parole—and passing the #LessIsMoreNY legislation are preventative public health measures that will help mitigate the public health crisis in New York’s jails and prisons. 

 

Statements by leaders of the #LessIsMoreNY Campaign

Emily NaPier Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said: "Michael Tyson should not have been in jail at all, pandemic or not. His death is a horrific tragedy compounded by the fact that it was likely preventable. Governor Cuomo's decision on March 27 to release 1,100 people locked up on technical parole violations, while an important step forward, is proving to be too little too late, especially for the more than 5,000 people left behind bars for the same minor rule infractions. While the Governor has been widely praised for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he has continued to minimize the crisis in the state prisons and local jails. We cannot let Michael Tyson's death be in vain. Unchained calls on Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to immediately release everyone incarcerated in New York's jails and prisons for technical violations and pass the Less is More Act."

Donna Hylton, Founder and Executive Director of A Little Piece of Light, said: “On March 27th, Governor Cuomo told the citizens of New York State that 1,100 of their loved ones who were being detained for technical violations would be released. Michael Tyson should have been one of those individuals. It is not enough to say people will be released, especially during this pandemic. If the Governor continues to play Russian Roulette with the lives of people detained for non-criminal behavior, there will be much more blood on his hands. A Little Piece of Light demands the immediate release of those individuals who continue to be detained and arbitrarily denied their release because they commited no new crime. Further, the Governor and the Legislature failed all of those people inside when they failed to include the Less Is More Act in the budget, so they must prioritize and pass it when they return to session.”

Lorenzo Jones, Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, said: “May Mr. Tyson rest in power and we offer our condolences to his family. Governor Cuomo's refusal to address the parole crisis across the state and pass important reform legislation including the Less Is More Act, coupled with foot dragging by the state to release people has resulted in the death of Michael Tyson. The Governor must release all people with technical violations from jails and prisons across the state immediately and with more urgency, and the Governor and the Legislature must pass #LessIsMoreNY to ensure that there is not another tragedy like Michael Tyson.  For the Governor to continue to ignore the dangerous reality that COVID-19 is raging through New York’s jails and prisons is irresponsible, especially while he is taking victory laps and praise for taking other actions to protect the people of New York. He should protect ALL people in New York, including those in jails and prisons.”

Vincent Schiraldi, co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab and former Commissioner of New York City Probation, said: “Many of us warned that punishing people for technical parole violations could turn into a death sentence for a non-criminal act, and today we have found out that that tragic prediction has come true. Governor Cuomo should immediately release everyone from jail and prison held on a technical, non-criminal violation and should prioritize the passage of the Less Is More Act to make sure there are no more Michael Tysons dying while locked up for technical violations."

Tyler Nims, Executive Director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, said: “The tragic death of Michael Tyson confirms the awful danger of COVID-19 in jails and prisons across New York State and the urgent need to reduce incarceration now. Mr. Tyson was jailed on Rikers solely because he was accused of a non-criminal technical violation of parole conditions. To prevent any more needless deaths, DOCCS should release people who are incarcerated for parole violations and the Governor and Legislature should pass the Less Is More Act as soon as possible. The stakes are too high for any more delay.”

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About the Less is More NY Campaign:

The Less is More NY Campaign is a coalition of groups working to pass the Less is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343B – Benjamin / A.5493A – Mosley), developed by people on parole, people currently incarcerated, family members, and groups across New York. Passing this bill would be an important step in the fight to end mass incarceration and mass supervision by restricting the use of incarceration in response to parole violations and promoting early discharge from community supervision. For more information visit: www.lessismoreny.org