State transfers inmates from Fishkill to Upstate prison
MALONE — As many as 60 inmates from the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Dutchess County are being transferred to Upstate Correctional Facility in Malone.
The move is reportedly necessary because Fishkill is suffering from staffing shortages because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Multiple people with close ties to the three area prisons alerted the Telegram to the transfers, and Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, confirmed Friday that inmates are being moved to the local maximum-security prison. However, Jones said the number being shifted from downstate to the North Country is fewer than reported by several sources.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision acknowledged that a “small number” of inmates had been transferred and cited exigent circumstances for the move. The department said the staff involved in the transfers was all equipped with personal protective gear and that inmates were quarantined upon reaching their new facility.
DOCCS declined to comment further, citing security concerns.
Several sources said one group of inmates — they put the number at 20 — arrived Thursday night and that other groups are expected to arrive over the next several days.
Several of those who contacted the Telegram said they were concerned that the inmates could bring the coronavirus to Upstate, where it could be transferred to the community at large through corrections officers and support staff who work at the prison. One person, a retired corrections sergeant, said the inmates were all “presumptive negative” because they were not showing signs of infection, but noted that some people don’t show symptoms for days after they are infected and others are asymptomatic.
“We have to protect (the community) from the state’s policy,” said the sergeant, who asked not to be identified so as not to endanger their access to information from corrections officers still working. Any infection reaching the local prisons could “quickly swallow up the rest of the community,” they said.
A current active-duty corrections officer, citing a DOCCS briefing, said last week that there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in any of the Franklin County prisons. But North Country Public Radio has reported that one corrections officer at Franklin Correctional Facility in Malone tested positive.
DOCCS has been releasing statewide numbers but is generally not saying how many COVID-19 cases or deaths might exist in any particular prison. The agency did report in late March that one inmate had tested positive at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.
A corrections officer has told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that a co-worker at the Adirondack Adolescent Offender Facility in Ray Brook has COVID-19, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons has said three inmates and eight corrections officers at FCI Ray Brook have tested positive for the virus, the Enterprise reported.
Jones said he has been assured by DOCCS leadership that each inmate being transferred to the Malone area is tested before being moved. They also have their temperatures taken both before they get on the bus bringing them upstate and again when they arrive in the area, then are placed in isolation for 14 days and monitored once they reach the prison, Jones said.
“Every necessary precaution is being taken to make sure personnel working in those facilities are protected to the fullest extent,” said Jones, a former corrections officer.
“Certainly I understand the concerns of our community,” he added.
Jones noted that when DOCCS announced roughly two weeks ago it was suspending the transfer of inmates among prisons, the agency said some necessary transfers would continue. The staffing situation at Fishkill makes the current transfers necessary, he said.
One source with a direct connection to the prison system said the inmates being transferred are housed in the special housing unit — a separate unit within the prison designed to hold problem inmates — at Fishkill that holds approximately 200 beds. Those inmates are being placed in a similar unit at Upstate that was vacant prior to their arrival.
Malone town Supervisor Andrea Stewart said the inmates’ move was “contrary to the directive the governor has issued to everyone,” citing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order calling on people to shelter in place and avoid travel to the extent possible. “I think it’s appalling,” she said of the transfers, adding they should be “stopped immediately.”
Stewart said she has expressed her concerns to Jones and other officials at the state level that the move brings greater exposure to the community.
“I’m not sure infecting our people is the best way to go,” she said.
Stewart also said residents have voiced their concerns about what the state is doing to her.
“They have a right to be concerned,” she said. “They have a right to be angry.”