Ten days ago, just one inmate in New York City’s jails had tested positive for the coronavirus.
On Monday, there were 167.
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The virus, it appears, is spreading quickly through the troubled jail complex, causing panic among inmates and their defense attorneys.
To put them at ease, the mayor has agreed to release hundreds of inmates from the troubled jail complex to try to protect them from the virus’s reach. The city has been slowly releasing them for days.
But that program came under serious scrutiny on Monday.
The five district attorneys and the city’s special narcotics prosecutor sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio questioning the administration's release of inmates from city jails, suggesting the release could be haphazard and may reinforce a perception the jails pose a public health risk.
The district attorneys acknowledge they have approved the release of hundreds of detainees from the city’s jails in order to protect vulnerable inmates from the spread of the coronavirus. At the same time, they contend, the city must have a process to safeguard the health of those who are incarcerated while protecting public safety. They contend the city had initially included on lists for release inmates who had been convicted of sex offenses and domestic violence.
As of Monday morning, there were 114 staff members at the Department of Correction who have tested positive for the virus along with those 167 inmates mentioned previously.
“The only way to achieve social distancing in our facilities and clinically monitor those most at risk for COVID-19 related illness is to release as many people as possible,” City Hall said in a statement. “We are doing everything we can to safely and humanely house those in our custody including opening up new housing units to ensure social distancing and moving everyone who is medically vulnerable into dedicated housing units where they can be separated and receive adequate clinical attention."
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