Sixteen Gouverneur prison staffers test positive

The entrance to Gouverneur Correction Facility, 112 Scotch Settlement Road. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

GOUVERNEUR — COVID-19 outbreaks at several north country prisons have worsened in the past two weeks, leading the state to cease almost all visitations beginning Wednesday.

As of Monday, 48 inmates at the Gouverneur Correctional Facility were actively positive for COVID-19, up from 24 last Thursday, according to data from the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The facility has confirmed a total of 50 cases, but two inmates have recovered.

Thirteen inmates at Riverview Correctional Facility in Ogdensburg are positive for the virus, as well as six inmates at Watertown Correctional Facility. No inmates at either Ogdensburg or Cape Vincent correctional facilities have tested positive for the virus to date, while Clinton Correctional Facility, Dannemora, has recorded 100 positive virus cases, 49 having recovered, all according to the same data. One inmate at Clinton Correctional has died of COVID-19 complications.

The three correctional facilities in Malone — Franklin Correctional, Bare Hill Correctional and Upstate Correctional — have recorded a collective 132 cases of the virus. Bare Hill has logged the most, with 107 inmates testing positive for the virus, 40 having recovered. Franklin has recorded two cases, but both have recovered, and Upstate has logged 23, with two recoveries.

Adirondack Correctional Facility, Ray Brook, has also logged two, both having recovered.

According to DOCCS spokesperson Rachel S. Connors, as a result of the “significant increase” in virus infections, visitation is temporarily suspended at all DOCCS facilities until further notice, effective Wednesday at 3 p.m. Visitation at Gouverneur Correctional was suspended last week, on Dec. 23.

Non-contact legal visits will be allowed to continue under previously announced protocols, according to DOCCS. Inmates will also be allowed to use phones and tablets in order to make free calls.

The spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails has been a major concern throughout the ongoing pandemic, with inmates confined to relatively small places.

Gouverneur has a capacity of roughly 1,100 inmates, meaning roughly one in every 22 inmates currently has the virus. To date, there have been 2,945 inmate positive cases in state-run prisons, as well as 21 inmate and four parolee deaths.

According to the DOCCS COVID-19 dashboard, as of Tuesday, 2,957 staff members have tested positive for the virus, and six have died. But DOCCS has repeatedly maintained that it won’t release the number of staff having tested positive, or in quarantine, by facility out of concerns for safety.

New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association President Michael B. Powers said 13 staff at Gouverneur Correctional have tested positive and another 47 are in quarantine as of Tuesday afternoon. He said the situation is “tense.”

“They’re stressed out,” Mr. Powers said, explaining that some staff are now pulling 12- to 16-hour shifts to compensate. “You can understand why. When you have a number like 13 that are out and 47 under quarantine, that’s 60 staff members, and that burden falls on the ones that are able to go to work.”

NYSCOPBA has been pushing the state to halt non-essential visitations and transfers to facilities since October, as was done earlier in the pandemic. Visitation at all state correctional facilities was halted in March for nearly five months.

While Mr. Powers said he’s glad the state finally made that call, he thinks it should have been done sooner when the union began raising the issue.

“It’s just frustrating on our end to have our concerns ultimately come to light after a significant amount of badgering,” Mr. Powers said.

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