New York Magazine: Will Rikers Island Free Inmates Because of the Coronavirus?

“The only way we can possibly keep incarcerated people safe is to release them,” said Justine Olderman, executive director of the Bronx Defenders. “The next best thing is to drastically reduce the number of people being held. Neither of those things are being done right now. As public defenders, what we’re actually seeing happen is the opposite, and it is terrifying.”

On the whole, advocates fear city and state correctional facilities are woefully underprepared. An internal document obtained by The City, outlined a 22-page plan for Rikers Island that included having inmates sleep head-to-toe three feet apart. Facing widespread criticism for the plan, the Department of Correction has yet to elaborate on its preparations, according to Kelsey De Avila, of Brooklyn Defender Services. “Our biggest concern is how we’re housing people and separating people. If we’re just going to lock down our jails, are we going to be using current units or housing units or solitary units? What does that look like? How will they get access to medical care? There’s only 70 beds in the contagious disease unit on Rikers Island with a population around 5,000. Those are the questions that we need answers to.”

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