March 26, 2020 By Allie Griffin
New York City will release 300 more inmates from Rikers Island amid fears of the coronavirus spreading across the sprawling jail facility.
The move comes after the mayor announced last week that 40 inmates from Rikers Island were set to be released on Friday. On Sunday he announced a further 23 prisoners from the city’s jail system were to be let out.
The 300 inmates are serving a sentence of under one year for misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies — other than domestic violence or sexual assault crimes — Mayor Bill de Blasio said at City Hall Tuesday.
Some have several months left on their sentence, while others have only a few weeks– and the city is working to release them as soon as possible, he said.
“We will move to release those 300 inmates immediately,” de Blasio said, adding that the release process may take a few days.
De Blasio also hopes to see whether another 800 inmates could be released, but doesn’t have the authority to make that call. He would need different district attorneys or the state to sign off on their release, he said.
He said that 100 of the 800 for potential release require the approval of a district attorney, while the other 700 are in jail for technical parole violations that the State of New York has to give sign off on.
These 800 are either old or have medical conditions making them particularly vulnerable should they contract COVID-19. De Blasio wants inmates fitting this criteria to be released.
He said that he is currently working with the district attorneys and the state to make this happen.
“We’re all working together, but they have to make their own decisions,” he said. “But I’m going to argue to everyone that those categories at this moment need to be acted on.”
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz was quick to answer de Blasio’s call.
On Wednesday she announced that her office had identified 30 inmates who could be released from Rikers Island.
The group of defendants were identified by a panel of nearly a dozen prosecutors who took into consideration each defendant’s age, criminal history, the remaining time left in their sentence and their health condition, Katz said.
“Over the past few days, a panel of nearly a dozen prosecutors, has been working tirelessly to identify defendants, who in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the interest of justice, should be released from Rikers Island,” the Katz said in a statement.
The panel has also reached out to the victims of the crimes committed by these defendants to consider their positions in making recommendations before a final decision is made.
There are over 5,000 inmates in New York City’s jail system and as of Wednesday morning, 75 have tested positive for coronavirus, according to the New York Daily News.
The rate of infection at city jails is more than seven times the rate of infection in New York City overall, the Daily News reported, citing a Legal Aid Society report.
A group of 28 council members including Queens Council Member Robert Holden and the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association have called on the mayor to establish a COVID-19 testing facility on Rikers Island to ensure the safety of correction officers, employees and inmates on the campus.
The council members penned a letter to de Blasio yesterday asking for the establishment of a testing facility as well as a screening station to evaluate everyone for potential symptoms of the coronavirus as they enter the island.
“Our correction officers put their health on the line each and every day, and they alone bear the burden of unknowingly spreading this highly contagious virus to their colleagues or inmates,” Holden said.
“They can also spread the virus in their home communities when they leave Rikers Island each day. We must provide them with reassurance by working to test every officer as soon as possible and ensure their safety, the safety of other employees, the safety of inmates, and the safety of all New Yorkers.”