Lack of COVID-19 testing in New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) is to blame for 80% of minority deaths and an infection rate six times higher than the expected threshold, according to a WHCU radio station news article.
“Mass testing in our prison facilities is absolutely critical to ensuring the health and safety of not only our incarcerated population, but also communities where correctional staff reside,” said Khalil Cumberbatch, Chief Strategist for New Yorkers Unified for Justice (NYUJ), a criminal justice advocacy group, while testifying in front of the New York State Legislature in March.
According to NYUJ, there were 27 COVID-19 related deaths between March 30 and May 15, with over 80% of the dead being Black.
As of May 15, DCCS had tested only 1.6% of its incarcerated population. Blacks and Latinos account for 72% of those incarcerated but are only 37% of the New York state demographic, according to the article.
“It is so critical that we discuss these populations because, as a formerly incarcerated advocate, I know too well the inadequacies of our criminal justice system to properly deal with public health crises,” Cumberbatch testified.
The infection rate of DCCS’s prison population was reported by NYUJ to be 66%. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “A population positive rate over 10% indicates a severe lack of testing,” making New York’s incarcerated positive rate over six times higher than WHO’s data.
“As has been documented many times over, healthcare delivery and quality is subpar, at best, in our jails and prisons,” Cumberbatch said, according to the article. “From my personal experience, the facility in which a person resides largely dictates the quality, or lack thereof, of healthcare a person receives. Add to that a global pandemic, the medical response is far from adequate. Also, as we all know, social distancing is impossible in correctional settings. Double, triple and even quadruple bunking, and dormitory settings, create prime conditions for the spread of the virus.”
Concluding his testimony before New York’s legislators, Cumberbatch said that “New York has made significant strides in improving our criminal justice system, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown we still have a long way to go.”