Infection behind bars

The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association has called for visits to be suspended at prisons where cases of the novel coronavirus have increased. Columbia-Greene Media

ALBANY — The state Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association is calling on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to impose an immediate suspension of visitation at correctional facilities where COVID-19 cases have recently surged.

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision suspended visitation at all state correctional facilities in March for nearly five months, though legal meetings with inmates were permitted.

As the pandemic began to subside following spring and summer peaks and health protocols became routine, limited visitation resumed in August.

In a release from NYSCOPBA President Michael B. Powers this week, the union representing more than 26,000 employees working as security personnel in correctional and mental hygiene centers is asking for a renewed suspension at “hotspot facilities.”

At Elmira Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison west of Binghamton in Chemung County, DOCCS reports 19 inmates are actively positive, with 88 tests pending.

A total of 91 active inmate cases have been logged over the last two weeks at Greene Correctional Facility, a medium-security men’s prison in Greene County. More than 400 inmate tests are pending, according to DOCCS data as of Wednesday.

“For security reasons,” DOCCS has declined to disclose staff case data by facility.

“Experts predicted a new wave of COVID-19 this fall, and that prediction is coming to fruition,” Mr. Powers wrote this week.

The union is requesting DOCCS require visitors to any facility provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 14 days prior to a visit.

Current DOCCS visitation guidelines require visitors to be screened for temperature, symptoms and travel history, and visiting room capacity is cut in half. Several additional visitation protocols are outlined in the department’s updated reopening plan, viewable online.

“Physical contact will not be allowed, except that a visitor and an incarcerated individual may engage in a short embrace at the beginning and the end of any contact visit,” the guidelines read in part.

Across all state facilities, five staff members, 17 inmates and four parolees have died of COVID-19 or complications related to the disease since the outset of the pandemic.

To date, DOCCS reports two inmates each at Gouverneur and Adirondack correctional facilities have been confirmed positive, and one positive has been logged at Clinton Correctional Facility. No staff or inmate cases have been confirmed at Ogdensburg, Riverview, Cape Vincent or Watertown state facilities.

“Nursing homes across the state have had serious restrictions placed on them when it pertains to family visitation,” Mr. Powers wrote. “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.”

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