How the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting NYS prisons

New York State

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — When the pandemic first hit in March, the spread inside prisons was difficult to control for officers and inmates. 

Communications director of NYSCOPBA, James Miller, tells NewsChannel 9 that they had to urge the State Department of Corrections for resources to keep them safe. 

“Well when it started, part of NYSCOPBA’s platform was providing all of the members the proper PPE, which at that point, they weren’t and they weren’t mandated to wear them,” he said. “We also wanted all visitation shut down, as well as all non-necessary transportation.” 

The state eventually supplied masks to both the correctional officers and the incarcerated populations. The Department of Corrections also suspended visitation for all NYS prisons effective Dec. 30 until further notice. 

Emily NaPier Singletary of Syracuse is familiar with those visitation limits. Her husband is currently serving time at Elmira Correctional Facility.

“There is no guarantee if he will even get to a phone every day to make a call and so do not know when that next call was coming, to have somebody in the family that is sick and in the hospital and not know if he’s going to be able to call in time to say goodbye to them, it’s heart-wrenching,” she said. 

Singletary and her husband co-founded Unchained, a Syracuse-based non-profit organization working to dismantle the carceral state. They are trying to pass legislation to decarcerate populations and keep parole violation arrests to a minimum. 

Correctional officers fall under the 1B phase for the COVID-19 vaccination and the Department of Corrections is urging correctional officers and parole officers to sign up for a shot on the New York State Department of Health website. As for the incarcerated population, DOCCS is working with the DOH to create a plan, but no additional information is available at this time. 

NYSCOPBA also recently filed a lawsuit against DOCCS for lack of COVID-19 paid leave for officers exposed to the virus. Department of Corrections spokesperson Thomas Mailey tells NewsChannel 9 the department cannot comment on pending litigation at this time. 

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