Three inmates in New York’s Adirondack Correctional Facility are suing the state, alongside its governor and corrections department, for allegedly endangering elderly inmates at heightened risk for novel coronavirus.
According to The Adirondack Daily Enterprise, the plaintiffs are represented in litigation by Relman Colfax PLLC and the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society. They are supported by the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, which has signed aboard the lawsuit as a co-plaintiff.
The Daily Enterprise notes that the lawsuit alleges, and attempts to define, the “deliberate indifference” purportedly shown to the health and safety of inmates.
Adirondack Correctional Facility, say the plaintiffs, lacks basic coronavirus-mitigation procedures and protocol. The prison does not offer regular tests for COVID-19, nor does it maintain any particular protective protocol.
Inter-facility busing, meals and transfers are also conducted without regard for disease transmission or social distancing.
The Intercept reports that Adirondack may be particularly susceptible to coronavirus outbreaks. That’s because the New York Department of Corrections seems to have treated the prison as something akin to an inmate “nursing home,” transferring medically vulnerable and elderly detainees there en masse.
However, public health officials do not appear to have followed any established protocol to ensure that transferred prisoners were not already infected with COVID-19. In some cases, inmates were taken from facilities with known coronavirus outbreaks, then introduced to Adirondack’s general population without testing or mandatory quarantine.
“By design,” the lawsuit states, “incarcerated people transferred to Adirondack are old, infirm, and unthreatening. These are precisely the people that DOCCS should prioritize releasing in light of the COVID-19 crisis.”
Among the lawsuit’s primary objectives is winning release for elderly prisoners who are both at-risk for novel coronavirus and unlikely to re-offend in the outside world. Stefen Short, an attorney with Legal Aid’s Prisoners’ Rights Project, suggested that New York is acting irresponsibly by shuffling around vulnerable inmates instead of letting them go home.
“Essentially, the state started transferring people halfway through the ongoing pandemic rather than releasing them,” Short said. “The department is engaging in very unsafe practices in transferring people to Adirondack, including not quarantining people upon arrival, not testing people before they’re transferred, shunting people directly into general population without any types of measures to ensure they don’t have COVID or have not been in contact with anyone who has COVID.
“And,” Short added, “the conditions at Adirondack are totally inadequate to protect people.”
Adirondack, for instance, does not permit prisoners to eat meals in their cells alone—instead, it forces detainees to eat together, in a large, communal hall wherein COVID-19 could easily spread.
The Daily Enterprise states that, between March and April of this year, New York transformed the correctional center from a juvenile detention center to one for the elderly.
The lawsuit notes that, of the 96 people currently incarcerated at Adirondack Correctional, half are between 60 and 65 years old, and the other half are over 65. Statistically, coronavirus is most likely to hospitalize or kill people aged 65 or other, with mortality and hospitalization rates still significantly higher for all Americans aged of 60 than younger adults.