The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is responding to the concerns brought forward by NYSCOPBA regarding the prevention of COVID-19 in the prisons.

It was reported early Monday that NYSCOPBA President Michael Powers tested positive for Coronavirus and that there were 2 confirmed cases at Marcy Correctional. Central Region VP Bryan Hluska and other Correctional Officers have voiced there concerns over the handling of the COVID-19 crisis at state prisons and the lack of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

After a call to DOCCS for a response, one was finally received. Despite major safety concerns from New York prison guards and staff, DOCCS tells WIBX, "DOCCS continues to evaluate all options in response to this public health crisis while preserving public safety."

With regard to Personal Protective Equipment, the Department of Corrections says that they are following CDC guidelines. They write,

At this time, and in accordance with both the CDC and New York State Department of Health, each DOCCS facility provides Personal Protective Equipment when medically necessary. Correction officers can and do wear masks provided by the Department when dealing with a medical situation. When worn for a legitimate medical interaction, the masks must be accounted for and disposed of properly.

They maintain the stance that masks and other protective equipment should only be used by first-responders and/or medical personnel working directly with individuals who are sick or infected.

The testing protocol for inmates is as follows,

The Department’s testing of incarcerated individuals is based on an individual exhibiting symptoms and after a medical evaluation is conducted. A nurse will swab the individual and that swab is then sent to an authorized lab. As we await the results, the individual is isolated. If an individual’s test result is positive that person is maintained in isolation for a minimum of 14 days.

DOCCS maintains that they have successfully navigated several outbreaks throughout history including tuberculosis, AIDS, and Hepatitis C. They will continue to do whatever they can to maintain the health and safety of those that are incarcerated.

The statement included the following additional steps taken by DOCCS.

"In addition to the release of low-level technical parole violators from local jails, which was announced Friday, DOCCS has initiated a number of measures to protect prison populations:

  • Suspending all intake of incarcerated individuals from county facilities.
  • Suspending internal transfers of incarcerated individuals except for medical and other exigent circumstances.
  • Temporarily suspending visitations.
  • Requiring non-security and other civilian staff to remain home for two weeks.
  • Implementing a health/travel questionnaire for all staff entering facilities.
  • Regularly distributing guidance from the Department of Health to all staff and population about the important steps to take to combat the virus
  • Displaying posters with information on COVID-19 and safety tips throughout DOCCS facilities and offices statewide
  • Regularly showing a video to the incarcerated population and staff at the facilities on proper handwashing entitled “Put your hands together”
  • Issued enhanced cleaning/sanitizing measures, consistent with CDC guidelines, for office surfaces, devices and disinfecting procedures.
  • Deployed hand sanitizer dispensers to all facilities for use by staff and the incarcerated population."

Central Region VP of NYSCOPBA Bryan Hluska responded to the statement with one of his own.

It’s true that we have dealt with infectious diseases in a correctional setting but nothing to this level of rapid spread and contagiousness. We are fully aware of the CDC guidelines but that’s just what they are, only guidelines. With visits not being halted until 3/14/20 and transportation not halted until 3/25/20 the potential danger of infected individuals moving from jail to jail is unknown. In the correctional setting we are in close quarters with other staff and inmates. With these elements combined it creates a breeding ground for the spread of COVID-19. We have requested the department to go above and beyond the CDC guidelines and the Department of Health’s guidelines and provide adequate PPE equipment for their employees e.g. N95 masks. NYC corrections has already taken these steps for their employees and we are calling on the department to follow suit. We are trying to help stop the spread of COVID-19 to our fellow staff members, inmates and the public, we strongly suggest the department follow our request because we cannot conform to the social distancing required to stop the spread of this virus.

You can see the article written regarding concerns of NYSCOPBA members by clicking the link:

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