NYC Officials Warn Of ‘Emerging Covid-19 Crisis’ At Rikers Island

As the world faces yet another surge in new Covid-19 cases, officials with the New York Department of Corrections are warning of alarming crisis people incarcerated in NYC’s jails are facing.

In a letter, DOC Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said the Covid-19 positivity rate at Rikers Island jail doubled in just 24 hours.

“Our COVID positivity rate was consistently hovering at approximately 1%. Yesterday it was 9.5%. Today it is over 17%,” Schiraldi wrote.

He added that “only 45% of our incarcerated population has received one shot of the vaccine, and only 38% is fully vaccinated.”

“The combination of these data indicates that the risks to the human beings in our custody are at a crisis level,” the Commissioner wrote.

Schiraldi continued, calling for assistance in addressing the crisis. “As you are, considerable efforts were made at the beginning of the pandemic to reduce the jail population immediately in order to avert a major humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.

“I implore you to ask the courts to similarly consider every available option to reduce the number of individuals in our jail,” he said.

So far, programs that require people imprisoned at the jail to gather –– including religious services and in-person visits –– have been suspended.

When vaccines were first being distributed throughout the US, advocates called for incarcerated people to be one of the first groups in line. The “horrendous” living conditions, overcrowding, and mass incarceration are just part of the factors leading to some Covid-19 outbreaks seen in the nation’s jails.

The NYC Corrections officers union blamed Schiraldi for the current outbreak, citing his “negligence” in enforcing a vaccine mandate for prison staff but not for the people incarcerated at the jail.

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