Recently released inmate tests positive for COVID-19 after spike at Greene Correctional

Coronavirus

COXSACKIE, N.Y. (WTEN) — When inmates leave prison, the first thing on their minds is a little freedom. However, one anonymous man says his son left Greene Correctional Facility and immediately had to put himself in solitary to quarantine. At first, our nameless father says they had no idea his son had COVID-19.

“We did ask them a month before he was released to have a COVID test. He wasn’t given it. A week before his release, we asked for the COVID [test] because our daughter has severe heart conditions, and they didn’t give it to him,” he explains in a recorded phone call with NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

In the time it took them to get a test, he says his son likely exposed two dozen people, including their whole family. The latest update from the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision confirms there are 91 COVID positive inmates at Greene Correctional.

A statement from spokesman Thomas Mailey says in part, “Under absolutely no circumstances are any incarcerated individuals released to the community if they have tested positive for COVID-19, are quarantined, or pending a test result.”

However, what Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden says this statement fails to mention is that inmates are only tested going into the prison, not coming out.

“You are tested for COVID before you’re allowed to get into the general population, but now apparently you can be released and you’re not being tested in a facility that is clearly having a rampant increase in overall positive tests. I don’t understand how you could not test, I mean we are trying to test hundreds of people per week here of our citizens and we’re not testing upon release? It doesn’t make sense to me,” Groden says

He explains he called Governor Cuomo’s office Wednesday for an explanation and he was told DOCCS is following guidelines. Groden says that doesn’t solve his concerns. There were also five other inmates recently released from the prison, and who knows where they went or who they exposed.

“Change the protocol. This is a hotspot, and we also have many inmates who are released and come back into Greene County. How do we address them? If they just show up at one of my county buildings seeking services, I should be able to know that they’ve been tested. Even that inmate himself should have some paperwork that when he leaves, he says I’m clean,” Groden says.

“You have, I think, a general push by the governor to release inmates to reduce prison population. Okay, but what is the safety net? Inmates aren’t just randomly released. There’s schedules, there’s dates. Many times we don’t know that they’re being released and then they come here and all of a sudden claim they’re homeless. We should be able to be told in advance to be able to plan for that,” he goes on to say.

The New York State Corrections Officers and Police Benevolent Association claims visitation is the problem that caused the case spike at Greene Correctional. Their statement says in part: “Experts predicted a new wave of COVID-19 this Fall, and that prediction is coming to fruition. … Visitation should be immediately suspended at hotspot facilities and DOCCS should require anyone who visits an incarcerated inmate provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the last 14 days.”

Our anonymous father disagrees, saying depriving inmates of time with loved ones isn’t the solution, but maybe more diligent testing, cleaning, and screening protocols would be.

“It’s time consuming and it’s probably going to cost more, but a person’s life is more important than money,” says the anonymous caller.

He says he believes inmates still deserve to have health and safety, even behind bars.

“The inmates are not animals. They made their mistakes. Hopefully we have programs that will correct them and lead them to a positive contribution to society, and they should be treated just like everybody else,” he says.

Full statement by DOCCS:

Under absolutely no circumstances are any incarcerated individuals released to the community if they have tested positive for COVID-19, are quarantined, or pending a test result.Those quarantined are also not allowed to visit. There are currently 91 incarcerated individuals who are positive for COVID-19 at the Greene Correctional Facility. These individuals were immediately isolated and a contact trace was conducted and those identified were quarantined and tested. Mass testing of all asymptomatic incarcerated individuals at Greene Correctional Facility has been completed with all results expected on Friday, October 16. Also, DOCCS is in the midst of targeted testing of the entire incarcerated population in the state’s correctional facilities while continuing to follow science-based protocols established at the beginning of the pandemic.  In consultation with DOH, DOCCS continues to monitor what is going on inside of our facilities and in the community to make any necessary changes to our re-opening plan.

Department of Corrections and Community Supervision spokesperson Thomas Mailey

An additional statement was included to address questions to standard COVID-19 protocols:

From the outset of this global health crisis, DOCCS has taken swift action, guided by facts and the recommendations of the New York State Department of Health and the CDC, to stop the spread of COVID-19 among staff and incarcerated individuals. This included the  Department implementing strict cleaning protocols for everything from showers to buses and phones. To reinforce policies and protocols during this health crisis, DOCCS’ Office of Special investigations has been performing compliance monitoring of all facilities, as well as facility executive team members who are working and walking through the facility every day.

Staff are screened daily for temperature; symptoms; contacts with a COVID-19 case; recent positive tests; and travel to a state with significant community spread that requires a 14-day quarantine. Staff also continue to be provided with sufficient PPE. It is critical that both staff and incarcerated individuals continue to follow the protocols in place, which include the mandatory use of masks for all staff, visitors and incarcerated individuals when participating in activities.

Department of Corrections and Community Supervision spokesperson Thomas Mailey

Full statement by NYSCOPBA:

NYSCOPBA is calling for the immediate suspension of inmate visitation at correctional facilities that have seen a recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases among in the inmate population. Recently, Elmira Correctional Facility saw an uptick in both staff and inmate positive tests, with more than 30 positive cases and more than 120 individuals under quarantine. At Greene Correctional Facility more than 70 inmates have tested positive in the last two weeks and there are close to 300 tests pending. More facilities are on the brink. 

Experts predicted a new wave of COVID-19 this Fall, and that prediction is coming to fruition. COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the U.S. over the past seven days. Governor Cuomo unveiled new lockdown measures for recent “micro-clusters” in and around the New York City area that are surging, and similar lockdown measures should be applied to State Prisons where the coronavirus is surging. Visitation should be immediately suspended at hotspot facilities and DOCCS should require anyone who visits an incarcerated inmate provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the last 14 days. 

Nursing homes across the state have had serious restrictions placed on them when it pertains to family visitation. Should similar standards be put in place at state prisons for those wishing to visit convicted felons? Staff should expect no less protections from our Governor and DOCCS.

New York State Corrections Officers and Police Benevolent Association spokesperson James Miller on behalf of President Michael Powers

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