COVID-19: Ocasio-Cortez Asks City to Detail Rikers Island Safety Measures

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) asked the City to detail the safety measures they are taking at Rikers Island Co

In a recent letter, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) asked the City to detail the safety measures they are taking at Rikers Island Correctional Facility, as New York faces another COVID-19 surge.

The Congresswoman’s office recently received calls from people detained at Rikers, detailing inadequate access to soap, facilities operating at high capacity, scarce healthcare resources, and poor air ventilation.

“The City has made valiant efforts to protect New Yorkers from COVID-19, particularly given they’ve received little help from the Trump administration. However, these disturbing calls necessitate further transparency,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez in a statement. “Many at Rikers stand only accused, not convicted, of a crime. And none of the detained individuals were sentenced to death by a deadly virus. The City has a responsibility to provide for the health and safety of everyone at Rikers.” Rikers Island is part of the Congresswoman’s congressional district, New York’s 14th. The text of the letter is below.

November 21, 2020

Dana Wax

Deputy Chief of Staff

New York City Department of Correction

75-20 Astoria Blvd.

East Elmhurst, NY 11370

Dear Ms. Wax,

I am writing regarding conditions at the correctional facilities located on Rikers Island, in my district. Earlier this year, at the onset of the pandemic, my office wrote to your agency with questions regarding pandemic preparedness to ensure the health and safety of detained individuals on the Island. In response, you informed us that “signs have been conspicuously posted,” “patients [are pre-screened] at pre-arraignment and upon admission”, and that Correctional Health Services has “adequate supplies of personal protective equipment”.

However, in the months that passed, we learned of several additional protective measures that must be in place to prevent an outbreak. These measures include wearing face coverings, washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, and avoiding close contact. Further, the EPA “recommends increasing ventilation with outdoor air and air filtration” in order to reduce the “potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19”. I am now writing to ascertain whether the Department of Corrections is adhering to this guidance.

This inquiry comes after my office became privy to disturbing allegations of insufficient mitigation efforts and negligent management of the facilities. The messages we received recount inadequate access to soap, facilities that are operating at 96% capacity, scarce healthcare resources, poor air ventilation, and leaking roofs. I seek responses to the following concerns:

  • Are detained individuals provided enough soap to thoroughly wash their hands multiple times a day?
  • Are facilities, in fact, at 96% capacity?
  • Do detained individuals have access to consistent and high quality healthcare?
  • Are facilities adequately ventilated so as to decrease the likelihood of virus transmission per EPA guidelines?

Finally, as cases rise throughout New York, please inform as to Testing and Tracing protocols on Rikers Island:

  • How often are detained individuals tested?
  • What quarantine arrangements are available to those who test positive?

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