State releases prison COVID numbers

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has released a breakdown of how many inmates in each prison are infected with COVID-19. This follows weeks of withholding those numbers for “security reasons.”

The breakdown shows few COVID-19 cases at North Country prisons, but also few tests being done.

The numbers, as of Sunday, show zero cases or tests at Adirondack Adolescent Correctional Facility in Ray Brook. A corrections officer there tested positive in early April but is out of isolation now, according to John Roberts, Northern Region vice president for the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, a corrections officers union.

The Ray Brook facility became an adolescent prison in 2018 for inmates between 16 and 18 years old. It currently houses 12 inmates, according to DOCCS. In early April it had 84 staff working, not including 20 who were quarantined, according to a corrections officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

At Clinton Correctional in Dannemora, one inmate who tested positive has recovered, and there are nine negative tests and one pending.

At Franklin Correctional in Malone one inmate who tested positive has recovered and eight tests have come back negative.

At Bare Hill Correctional in Malone, there is one negative test and one pending.

At Altona Correctional there is one negative test and one pending test.

At Riverview Correctional in Ogdensburg there are two pending tests.

At Gouverneur Correctional there are two negative tests.

At Watertown Correctional there are no cases and no tests.

According to DOCCS, prisoners are tested when they exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, and after a medical evaluation is conducted. The test swab is sent to an authorized lab, and the individual is isolated while results are determined.

DOCCS has not released data on corrections officers who have been tested or tested positive, because it says they are members of the general public who receive guidance from the state Department of Health or their personal physicians.

Statewide, 813 DOCCS staff have tested positive and two have died of COVID-19-related complications.

State Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, a former corrections officer, said if statistics are available about COs and could make the community feel better, DOCCS should release the numbers. Mostly, though, he said the prison system needs more testing.

“We need more testing; there’s no doubt about that,” Jones said. “We need more testing with our front-line workers and our essential workers.”

He said he doesn’t care whose fault it is that there has not been enough testing yet, or if the state or federal government will lead the testing. He just wants to get it done.

He said the U.S. came together as a manufacturing giant during World War II to build weapons, infrastructure and supplies for the war, and it needs to make similar leaps now.

Center for Community Alternatives, a prison-reform organization with offices in Brooklyn, Syracuse and Rochester, said the state’s numbers may not tell the whole story.

“In addition to revealing the horrifying failure to test for COVID-19 behind bars, the newly released DOCCS’ data is also simply hard to believe,” wrote Katie Schaffer, the group’s director of advocacy and organizing. “At Queensboro Correctional Facility (in Queens), was the person who died from the coronavirus the only person tested? This suggests either a remarkable abdication of responsibility to test or an incorrect reporting of the true number of cases. Reports from inside suggest both: people incarcerated at Queensboro detail at least six cases.”


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