COVID cases in New York prisons and detention centers continue to place a strain on corrections officers, staff, and inmates across the state.
Over the last 11 months, more than 4,000 prison staff in New York have tested positive for COVID-19. Seven have died. Corrections officers’ union president Mike Powers says the year has been a strain on his members.
"It's a very stressful time for our members because they're coming and going," said Mike Powers, the president of the New York State Correctional Officers PBA, the union that represents corrections officers. "They're entering the facilities sometimes at 16 hour days. Many of them are being bogged down for 16 hour days."
Corrections officers are set to receive the COVID vaccine likely from local health departments, Powers said. But like any segment of the population, there are members of Powers' union who are hesitant to take the vaccine.
"It's been a mixed bag," Powers said. "I've got a good portion of my membership that doesn't want the vaccine and a good portion of my membership that does want it. We're looking to get it to maintain a healthy working environment for all involved."
Powers contracted COVID himself in March and plans to take the vaccine when it is available to him. But he's told his members that taking the vaccine is a personal choice for them.
State lawmakers and advocates, meanwhile, remain concerned about the impact of the pandemic on inmates.
State officials say more than 5,000 inmates have tested positive and 30 have died. Assemblyman Dan Quart is among a group of lawmakers visiting prisons, jails and ICE detention centers to observe the conditions.
"You don't become less of a person because you're incarcerated," he said. "If we start doing that we lose our humanity and we lose our empathy and decency as New Yorkers. We have to care about all New Yorkers regardless of what the individual may have done 10, 15, 20 years ago."
Among the concerns for lawmakers: Ensuring older inmates vulnerable to COVID are released and providing them with medical coverage. Quart toured the Fishkill Correctional Facility last weekend, the first of several visits lawmakers expect to make in the coming weeks to prisons and jails.
"If only we could shake the bureaucracy and get these beds available for those who are ill or sick like the people I met in Fishkill last Saturday," he said.