I learned that my parishioner died on May 2nd. Another member of our church who used to talk to him every week worried when he didn’t make his regular calling. Since the start of the pandemic, he had always tried to be the first on the phone for fear of using the receiver after an infected person. A few days later, a hospital near Fishkill called her to report her death. She became emotional recently as we spoke about the state’s handling of her case. “Life was meaningless to them,” she said of prison officials.
No one outside the prison even knew he was sick.
I lived in the shadow of my parishioner’s death for almost a year, often reverting to the sense of helplessness he felt in trying to protect his own life. Ultimately, I decided to look at the state’s response to the Covid-19 prison. What I have learned confirms the outrage and condemnation of watch groups, including the failure rating for the Covid-19 response given in New York by the Prison Policy Initiative last June.
By the spring of 2020, when my parishioner passed away and as New York City reported thousands of new cases on a daily basis statewide, it was already evident that the state was unprepared to respond to the crisis unfolding in its areas. prisons. In March of that year, Governor Andrew Cuomo proudly announced the state’s own line of hand sanitizer, “Conveniently Made by New York State.” He did not explain that the disinfectant was bottled in a state correctional facility by incarcerated people – at the same time as Covid-19 infections were skyrocketing in those places. The state actually did not require the availability of disinfectant in correctional facilities until the end of the month.
The neighborhoods close to the Fishkill assembly site were a powder keg for largely unmasked residents without adequate access to testing, but it wasn’t until mid-May – a week after my parishioner’s death – that the The state announced that it had completed the distribution of masks at its facilities. Advocacy groups say there was no constant access to masks even after that: Laurie Dick, who heads the rights group Beacon Prison Action, told me during a protest in the Outside the prison around Thanksgiving, people inside opened the windows and shouted that they needed masks. “I couldn’t believe that in November they were still wrestling with masks,” she said.
After all this, the state has largely retained the most important measure to save lives: the vaccine. The Ministry of Health’s “phase one” vaccine eligibility list included residents of all state-run collective living spaces – except prisons. In March, Justice Alison Tuitt of the Bronx State Supreme Court ordered New York to offer vaccines to all incarcerated people, adding that their exclusion from access was “unfair and unfair.”
Who can we hold responsible for this failure to adequately protect New York State incarcerated people? I contacted the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), which runs prisons in New York City, to ask who was in charge of the state’s Covid-19 prison policy. He provided me with extensive information, including this written statement: “Since the onset of the Covid-19 health crisis, NYS DOCCS has worked around the clock with the governor’s office and several state agencies to ensure the protection of both the incarcerated population and our staff. It is true that after the first peak of infections, the DOCCS implemented measures to mitigate Covid-19, including the early release of nearly 4,000 people in prison.
But the language of that statement is not clear as to who ultimately calls the shots – DOCCS or Governor Cuomo. “If we don’t know who is making the decisions, we don’t know who to hire,” said Stefen Short, a supervising attorney for the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project, which has helped to litigate the vaccine case. ‘State.