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Three Adirondack prison inmates sue state over COVID conditions

Adirondack Correctional Facility, a state prison in Ray Brook for older inmates, is seen in July 2020. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

RAY BROOK — Three inmates at Adirondack Correctional Facility are suing the state — notably the governor and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision — for allegedly endangering older inmates at the prison during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys employed by Relman Colfax PLLC and the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society. The Release Aging People in Prison Campaign joins them as a plaintiff.

The lawsuit alleges a “deliberate indifference” to the health and safety of inmates. It details a lack of testing, proper protective protocol and medical equipment. It says busing, meals and transfers are being conducted improperly.

DOCCS does not comment on pending litigation and declined to provide data on staff infection rates.

Data on inmates last updated on Jan. 7 show a total of two positive cases at the facility since the pandemic began, both recovered. There are six pending tests.

The lawsuit acknowledges that the state has increased testing of inmates in recent months, but says it does not test enough.

The lawsuit

The lawsuit specifically targets Adirondack Correctional, which last year was converted from a youth prison to one for older inmates. The plaintiffs say that bringing elderly inmates most at risk to the virus, from prisons with high infection rates, and putting them on buses and in buildings with little to no social distancing and air filtration without first testing them was unnecessarily dangerous.

It also says that unlike other prisons that allow inmates to eat meals in their cells, Adirondack Correctional holds communal meals in which residents of several buildings meet and eat at the same time.

The lawsuit says of the 96 inmates at Adirondack Correctional, half are between 60 and 65 years old and the other half are over 65 years old.

Between April and May 2020, in the first wave of the pandemic, the state turned the facility into one for adolescent inmates into one for elderly inmates.

The plaintiffs and defendants

The plaintiffs — Allen Harper, Jose Leon and Ranfis Perez — are seeking policy changes, increased safety measures and in specific cases, release to home confinement for inmates with disabilities.

Harper, 75, of Brooklyn has been incarcerated since 2002. He was transferred to Adirondack Correctional in August 2020 from Woodbourne Correctional Facility.

He has a history of serious heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease, valvular disease and a prostate condition, according to the lawsuit.

Leon, 62, of Manhattan has been incarcerated since 1974. He was transferred to Adirondack Correctional in July 2020 from Otisville Correctional Facility. He has been diagnosed with hypertension, hypothyroidism and ulcerative colitis, has coronary artery disease and suffered a heart attack in 2019 that required a stent to open a blocked artery in his heart, according to the lawsuit.

Perez, 60, of Manhattan has been incarcerated since 2001. He was transferred to Adirondack Correctional in June 2020 from Eastern Correctional Facility. He has diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, according to the lawsuit.

RAPP Director Jose Saldana said this is the first lawsuit the organization has been involved in. He said RAPP regularly talks with the family of inmates and that they saw a particular problem at Adirondack Correctional, being an age-60-and-over facility.

According to state data, 86.7% of COVID-19-related deaths in the state are among people 60 years old or older.

The defendants in the lawsuit are Gov. Andrew Cuomo, DOCCS, DOCCS Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci, DOCCS Deputy Commissioner and Chief Medical Officer John Morley and Adirondack Correctional Superintendent Jeffery Tedford.

The lawsuit is over alleged violation of inmates’ rights. It claims the state violated the 8th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

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