COVID-19 outbreak in New York City prisons leads to pause on all in-person visits

The city’s corrections department has suspended all in-person visits to New York City jails until further notice thanks to the outbreak of COVID-19 infections fueled by Omicron.

The tour suspension includes all in-person meetings, many of which will be moved to televisites, as well as gathering programs and services, including religious gatherings, just three days before Christmas.

“It is extremely difficult for all of us to take these steps,” Corrections Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said in a statement Tuesday evening. “The city has done an extraordinary job of keeping COVID at bay at our facilities and minimizing loss of life from the pandemic, but Omicron presents a new challenge. We are taking these precautions again because we know they work and will make everyone safer. “

As of Wednesday, the Corrections Department began offering televisites only to families and friends of those incarcerated in New York City jails. Correctional staff work with people who have made pre-scheduled face-to-face visits to convert these meetings into teleconferences.

You can schedule a televisit with an incarcerated person by visiting the Corrections website,

During this time, the Correctional Service will modify the services and programs for inmates. Access to the clinic will remain, and prison chaplains may continue to visit inmates at their discretion.

People trapped in prisons who test positive for COVID-19 are isolated in separate units to help limit transmission. Corrections also said it continues to encourage everyone in custody to get the COVID-19 vaccine, even offering the same financial incentives as other New Yorkers, including $ 100 gift cards. $.

According to data from the Correctional Service and NYC Health + Hospitals, most inmates held by the Correctional Service are not vaccinated against COVID-19. Only 44% of those currently in prison have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, although health experts have indicated that those who have received both doses and a COVID-19 booster have the best chance of avoiding serious infection. by the Omicron variant.

The vast majority of uniformed Correctional Service personnel are vaccinated, with 85% of members having received at least the first dose. It comes after the city’s vaccination mandate for the corrections department went into effect on December 1.

The COVID-19 outbreak in the city’s prisons is particularly severe on Rikers Island, according to the Legal Aid Society.

In a joint letter to Schiraldi from the company and several public rights organizations, they cited data from the city that indicated a 17% COVID-19 positivity rate on Rikers Island as of December 20. For months that number had hovered around 1%. before starting to balloon just 10 days ago.

The Legal Aid Society letter accuses “the risks to human beings in our custody are at a critical level,” and the signatories called on the correctional service to immediately release those incarcerated and suspend new admissions to the prisons of. New York.

Eliminating in-person visits, the letter argues, will lead to other problems.

“These measures will have far-reaching negative effects on an inmate population that is still reeling from two years of COVID and a staffing crisis that has contributed to unprecedented levels of tension, anxiety and violence within the community. prisons, “according to the letter. “The consequences of removing these basic services and supports for those in our custody will be felt both by those detained and by the officers who work hard every day to keep people safe here.” We believe that we have no choice.