New York is considering transferring certain elderly and immunocompromised incarcerated individuals out of a state prison in Elmira, where nearly 600 positive COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed over the last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
But Cuomo stopped short of saying he would grant any additional clemencies to incarcerated people in Elmira, instead defending his administration’s handling of the virus in state prisons.
“There is a problem in Elmira. We are already taking special measures for members of the population who may be vulnerable,” Cuomo said. “They’re getting additional safety precautions within the facility.”
“DOCCS is also considering if they have a person who could be especially vulnerable, transferring the person from Elmira to another facility.”
Melissa DeRosa, a top aide to Cuomo, said the administration has granted early release to 3,057 incarcerated individuals from state prisons since the start of the pandemic in March. Of those, 791 were incarcerated for low-level parole violations.
The remaining individuals who were released were above the age of 55 and charged with low-level crimes, or pregnant women near their release date, DeRosa said. There are about 36,000 people living in state prisons in New York.
“We’re obviously always evaluating on an ongoing basis if there’s better ways to improve and if there are additional opportunities, but we are trying to balance the need for public safety and public health,” DeRosa said.
Outbreaks of the virus emerged this month in a handful of state prisons, namely Elmira Correctional Facility and Greene Correctional Facility. There’s also been an uptick of COVID-19 in state prisons in Clinton and Cayuga Counties.
As of Tuesday, 1,566 incarcerated people had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in New York. As of Monday, the latest facility-specific data, 588 incarcerated people in Elmira had tested positive, according to state data.
A coalition of criminal justice advocates, led by the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, called on Cuomo later Wednesday to issue clemencies to vulnerable individuals in state prisons, rather than transferring them to another facility.
“The Cuomo Administration’s few and limited measures are failing to protect incarcerated people and the communities surrounding prisons, evident in the current unprecedented virus outbreaks. New Yorkers need real action,” the coalition said.
Eighteen individuals have died from COVID-19 in New York’s state prisons, according to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.