One-third of Essex County COVID-19 cases are in prison
RAY BROOK — In Essex County, more than a third of the people who have tested positive for COVID-19 are inmates at the Federal Corrections Institute in Ray Brook.
Of the 20 people who have been confirmed positive through testing, eight are inmates, and one has been hospitalized. Essex County Health Department Public Information Officer Andrea Whitmarsh said all eight are at FCI Ray Brook.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons, whose numbers are typically behind Essex County’s, is reporting that FCI Ray Brook has six inmates and six corrections officers who have the virus. That has changed from three inmates and eight corrections officers before the weekend.
One of these eight inmates has been hospitalized, but Whitmarsh said she cannot confirm where. Adirondack Medical Center is not reporting whether patients hospitalized for COVID-19 are from the prisons.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has not been reporting cases from individual facilities, limiting itself to only statewide numbers for “security reasons,” although it did report in late March that one inmate had tested positive at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.
State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association Northern Region Vice President John Roberts said the officer who was infected at Adirondack Adolescent Correctional Facility is healthy and back out of isolation now. North Country Public Radio has confirmed that one corrections officer at Franklin Correctional Facility in Malone tested positive.
Statewide, DOCCS is reporting that 783 corrections officers, 210 inmates and 31 parolees have tested positive, and that of that number, 57 are recovered and out of isolation. One staff, five inmates and four parolees have died from COVID-19-related illness.
FCI Ray Brook
BOP Director Michael Carvajal was named director late in February, during the pandemic. He has said he believes the bureau has done a good job.
“I don’t think anybody was ready for this COVID, so we’re dealing with it just as well as anybody else and I’d be proud to say we’re doing pretty good,” Carvajal told CNN.
He said the BOP allegedly began preparing for the potential spread of the virus in January. However, the nationwide shelter-in-place order for inmates did not come until early April, and inmate transfers and visitations were still taking place well into March.
James Weldon, the president of AFGE CPL33, Local 3882 — the union representing corrections officers at FCI Ray Brook — said the changes made were “a day late and a dollar short.”
Even politicians said they have had trouble communicating with the prisons, both state and federal. U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik said on both state and federal levels, changes to prison policies were made too late, across the board. She said she has been informed on the state of COVID-19 inside the facilities, not from the bureau itself, but mostly by constituents, getting anecdotal information from corrections officers’ families.
“Even we have had challenges breaking through the bureaucracy,” Stefanik said. “Really, it took a conversation I had with the attorney general’s office with the director of the BOP … to break down those communication black holes between the counties and Ray Brook.”
Andrew Hastings, a corrections officer at FCI Ray Brook, has been at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh since April 1. His sister-in-law Lisa Jimenez started a GoFundMe fundraising web page titled “Federal CO, Andrew Hastings’ Battle with COVID-19.” In the last update post to that page on April 18 she wrote that Hastings has been moved from the intensive care unit to the critical care unit. He was able to stand and is recovering from the sedation he was under while on a ventilator. His family members who were sick with fevers and coughs are also recovering.
The BOP said it has increased monthly telephone minutes from 300 to 500 minutes. Telephone calls are free to inmates, but collect calls will still be charged to the receiving phone number.
Inmate mail is being distributed daily. Video sessions are free of charge to the female population at 16 facilities that offer the service.
Legal visits have also been suspended for 30 days, but confidential legal calls will be allowed.
“With respect to inmate movement generally, BOP movement nationwide is down 87% from this time last year,” Justin Long, from the BOP’s Office of Public Affairs, wrote in an email. “However, the BOP is required to accept inmates awaiting trial remanded to our custody. We must also accept newly-convicted inmates for service of their sentence.”
Considering risk factors
The BOP has begun reviewing all inmates who have COVID-19 risk factors, to determine which inmates are suitable for home confinement.
“As institutions are working through the original priority list of inmates, at these institutions, it is possible they may be referring additional inmates if appropriate for home confinement,” Long wrote.
Inmates do not need to apply to be considered for home confinement. While all inmates are being reviewed for suitability, any inmate who believes they are eligible may request to be referred to home confinement and provide a release plan to their case manager.