At least 21 inmates in New York City jails have tested positive for the coronavirus, some of them at Rikers Island, the agency that oversees the city’s jails said Saturday.
In a letter sent to prosecutors and jail officials, the Board of Correction also said that 12 corrections employees and five correctional health services workers were diagnosed in the past week.
Another 58 other people were being monitored in the contagious disease and quarantine units, the board’s interim chair, Jacqueline Sherman, wrote.
Sherman said the situation left city jails “facing a crisis” and called on law enforcement officials to release high-risk inmates as soon as possible.
“It is likely these people have been in hundreds of housing areas and common areas over recent weeks and have been in close contact with many other people in custody and staff,” she said. Given the crowded conditions in jails, she said, the number of patients “is certain to rise exponentially.”
Sherman urged officials to rapidly decrease the jail population, prioritizing people at high risk of infection such as those over 50 or people with underlying health conditions.
People detained for administrative reasons such as parole violations should be released first, she wrote, along with people serving less than one year.
“Fewer people in the jails will save lives and minimize transmission among people in custody as well as staff,” Sherman said. “Failure to drastically reduce the jail population threatens to overwhelm the City jails’ health care system as well its basic operations.”
The Department of Corrections confirmed the 12 infections among its employees but gave a slightly lower number, 19, for the total number of people in custody who have tested positive. The department didn’t immediately respond to a request to clarify the discrepancy.
“The health and well-being of our personnel and people in custody is our top priority,” the department said in a statement.