Two weeks ago, lawmakers held a hearing looking at the impact COVID-19 had on prisons and jails in New York.
During the hearing, officials said they are still working to test every incarcerated individual, but advocates say that the state is slowing down the number of tests per week.
To date, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) has tested 17,665 incarcerated individuals.
However, this is out of 36,432 inmates, which means less than half have been tested for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Alexander Horwitz, the executive director of New Yorkers United for Justice, says that DOCCS needs to release a testing plan and strategy.
“Why this is so urgent today now as we look ahead to flu season, is we haven’t seen a strategy,” Horwitz explained. “We haven’t seen a plan. We haven’t seen trends to say yes they’re making progress. It’s like a yo-yo.”
New Jersey is currently on its third round of testing all incarcerated individuals that tested negative in the second round. States like Florida, Iowa, and Michigan have also conducted more tests inside their prisons and jails to date.
DOCCS spokesperson Thomas Mailey sent a statement saying, “This assertion by prison advocates is demonstrably false and the complete antithesis of the facts – DOCCS is in the midst of targeted testing of the entire incarcerated population in the state’s correctional facilities while continuing to follow science-based protocols established at the beginning of the pandemic.”
The state has finished testing all incarcerated individuals in the Western New York facilities as well as all those housed at the department’s three female facilities.
Anyone displaying COVID-19 symptoms will be isolated and tested, according to Mailey. If there is a positive case, all those in contact will also be tested.
State officials have not said when they will finish testing all incarcerated individuals.
Without complete data, advocates worry testing for COVID-19 will be less of a priority when flu season ramps up.
During the legislative hearing in September, Acting DOCCS Commissioner Anthony Annucci also testified that they did not currently have access to enough flu vaccines for every inmate.
"Is every incarcerated individual entitled to a flu vaccine?" Senator Brad Hoylman questioned during the hearing.
"We don’t have enough to vaccinate every single individual, so we have to prioritize," Annucci responded.
"Do you have to ration flu vaccines?" an incredulous Senator Holyman continued to question. "I find that absolutely unacceptable."
Mailey responded, saying, ”DOCCS has an ample supply of flu vaccines. This year, an initial order was placed in April through our Central Pharmacy, and we are currently awaiting details on availability and delivery details of additional orders. We do not and have not ever rationed flu vaccines. Nor does the Department force a vaccine on anyone who does not request one. We have always ordered more than what we use and have always had surpluses each year. Individuals are prioritized based on when doses are received.”
DOCCS officials did not specify how long it takes to receive enough flu vaccines for every inmate.