How do you safely run a large jail in the time of Coronavirus? In New York City’s case, the sad answer is you don’t.
On any given day, close to 4,000 New Yorkers are being held on Rikers Island – many of them convicted of no crime while awaiting trial. But being behind bars right now in New York City could be a possible death sentence because of Coronavirus.
In a powerful podcast by NY1’s Courtney Gross, inmates and corrections officers reveal the dangerous conditions on Rikers – where more than half of the jail was on lockdown this month because of COVID-19.
At least three inmates and nine staff members have died from the virus while more than 1,200 others have tested positive.
While city officials say they’re doing everything they can to minimize the health risk in the jails, no one would even bother to sit down with Gross to try to answer questions being raised by both inmates and guards about safety on the island.
While it makes little sense to release a dangerous criminal on the streets, it also seems grossly unfair to put someone -- who hasn’t been convicted of anything – in a situation in which he or she could get extremely ill.
Closing Rikers was a top priority of many advocates and elected officials before the virus. Regardless of the financial cost, it seems like an important goal because of the human cost that’s now involved on the massive jail. When almost everyone in New York City is worried about the Coronavirus, it’s clearly too easy to forget about people who are inside a jail in the middle of an island.
Endnote: It’s with great sadness that I note the sudden passing of WNYC’s Richard Hake. Richard was the radio equivalent of our Pat Kiernan, a voice that tens of thousands of New Yorkers awoke to every morning. Richard was an inspiration and a friend to so many people, including me and my dear wife. He cannot be replaced and will be missed.