In light of the spread of COVID-19, a coalition of civil rights leaders and medical professionals are urging lawmakers in Albany to do two things: reject any rollbacks to bail reform and decrease the prison population around the state immediately.
The chair of the Assembly Health Committee, Richard Gottfried, described prison right now as “a pot of bubbling contagion."
During the same virtual press conference on the issue Wednesday morning, Scott Roberts, the senior campaign director of the group The Color of Change, called any rollback of bail during the COVID-19 public health crisis “shameful.” Roberts also recommended that incarcerated people who are in pre-trial detention for technical violations be immediately be released, as well as for all older and ailing inmates to be immediately discharged.
A former medical director at Rikers Island, Dr. Bob Cohen, shared his experience watching both AIDS and tuberculosis tear through the prison population in the 1980s and '90s.
“Coronavirus is about to take hold, and the only way to prevent it from spreading like wildfire through the prison and jail system is to decrease the population,” explained Cohen.
Clemency for older, sick inmates is being considered in several other states like Illinois.
According to a spokesman for the Department of Correction and Community Supervision, the Department has successfully managed infectious outbreaks, such as tuberculosis, AIDS, and Hepatitis C. DOCCS also has a comprehensive Pandemic Flu protocol that has been modified for COVID-19.