The United States accounts for the largest incarcerated population worldwide, totaling around 2.3 million people. The overcrowding in many of these facilities produces extreme risks for contracting COVID-19. Recent surges in infection rates within correctional facilities, locally and nationally, exposes the vulnerability of inmate populations. New York prison systems have seen some of the worst impacts from the COVID-19 outbreak. By the beginning of April, 231 inmates and 223 staff at Rikers Island reported with infections.
The impact of unsafe prison conditions
Many correctional facilities do not provide basic hygienic products like soap or hand sanitizer. In New York, Riker’s Island inmates are being paid $6 dollars per hour to dig graves to support the massive number of burials needed due to COVID-19 deaths. Across the nation, inmates, who typically make a fraction of that amount during prison work activities, are often required to buy their own soap. At the same time, facilities remain under-supplied for other essential cleaning supplies. Due to these harsh conditions, prisons could serve as vectors for spreading the virus further.
Reacting to a national crisis
Attorney General William Barr recently order that the Federal Bureau of prisons identify eligible prisoners and develop release plans to prevent further infections and deaths. Federal facilities represent a much smaller percentage of the prisoners nationwide, but states like New York are planning to follow suit. Here are some of the federal guidelines concerning which prisoners may be eligible for early release:
- Those inmates with at-risk conditions
- Those with non-violent offenses
- Those who are unlikely to be recidivists or engage in further criminal activity
- Those who can serve their sentences in home confinement
What this means for those currently incarcerated in NY
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has already released 900 people leading up to the end of March. A minor sentence shouldn’t turn into a death sentence for those people with heightened risk factors regarding a COVID-19 infection. If your loved one is currently incarcerated for a non-violent offense or has at-risk medical conditions, contact a criminal defense attorney to pursue any available options for early release.