Pressure is mounting on Governor Andrew Cuomo to actively protect state prisoners from the Covid-19 virus.
Practicing social distancing behind bars, where people line up for everything from showers to meals, and most conversation take place on a face-to-face basis is difficult, if not impossible.
191 persons joined a virtual news conference on March 30th-a startling large number. Parents and friends reported that the individuals locked up in state prisons were terrified.
A conclusion buttressed by a New York Times front page story on the same day “Prisoners ‘Terrified’ as Coronavirus Spreads Behind Bars.” The article warned the virus is taking its toll in prisons across the Country.
Failure to act, will turn “New York Prisons into death camps,” warned Jose Saldana the Director of Release Aging People from Prison the group that organized the news conference. Mr. Saldana was released from NYS prison in January 2018 after 38 years and four Parole Board denials.
His warning was reinforced by a letter signed by public health experts on Friday the 27th urging President Trump to commute sentences for the “medically vulnerable population including persons suffering from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, or cancer.”
Conditions in prisons are often compared to cruise ships or nursing homes that have become epidemic hot spots. “These people are housed cheek-by-jowl, they share toilets, showers, and sinks; they wash their bedsheets and clothes infrequently; and often lack access to basic personal hygiene items. Adequate medical care is hard to provide, even without COVID-19” the experts wrote in their letter.
Michelle Lynn spoke up at the news conference on behalf of her father Robert Lynn who is 73 and has been in prison for 37 years. His petition for clemency was filed in 2016; He could go home tomorrow if the Governor agreed.
Saying the virus forced his hand three days earlier, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom “commuted sentences of 21 California prison inmates — including 10 convicted of homicides— and granted pardons to five others” reported the Sacramento Bee.
New York City experienced a rapid rate of increase in Covid-19 cases Robert Cohen said at the new conference. The danger called for “immediate action” explained Cohen, a member of the New York City Board of Correction, and 12% of the City jail population was released.
According to David George, the media contact for Release Aging People, the Governor has been asked at new conferences about protecting state prisoners and said the matter is under consideration, but no decision had been reached.