Local officials: Stop busing visitors from downstate to Elmira Correctional Facility

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ELMIRA, N.Y. (THE LEADER) – ‘This article was written by our media partner ‘The Leader’.

Local officials called on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) Monday to immediately take aggressive steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 positive cases at the Elmira Correctional Facility.

State Sen.Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, and Assemblyman Chris Friend, R-Big Flats, cited the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, which says more than 40 corrections officers and 15 inmates at Elmira are currently in quarantine, with seven officers and five inmates testing positive.

The lawmakers highlighted several areas of concern surrounding the surge at the Elmira facility — concerns they say will continue to “pose a serious risk to inmates and staff there and potentially at other state correctional facilities.”

Chief among their concerns is that DOCCS has not suspended visits to inmates from family members arriving from New York City and other downstate areas where COVID-19 infection rates remain high. Unlike at facilities like nursing homes, the state rules set by Cuomo’s administration don’t require proof of a negative coronavirus test before allowing visitors into state prisons for direct visits with inmates, the lawmakers said.

O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano also raised concerns over what they say is a lack of adequate testing to ensure that potentially COVID-infected inmates are not being transferred between state and county correctional facilities. 

They say there is an increased risk of staffing shortages if the spike at the Elmira facility continues to require infected officers to be quarantined.

“The Cuomo administration must immediately stop inmate visitations and prisoner transfers at the Elmira Correctional Facility,” O’Mara, Palmesano and Friend said in a joint press release. “Our region is already facing concerns over new outbreaks and we need to keep this latest increase in check. The facility needs to be isolated until this surge is brought fully under control. The current spike puts inmates at great risk and, equally important, it poses [a] serious risk to the health and safety of local corrections officers, their families and the community at large.”

The area legislators are calling on the Cuomo administration to:

  • immediately suspend inmate transports
  • require a mandatory negative COVID test for anyone entering the Elmira facility to visit an inmate
  • suspend physical contact between inmates and visitors
  • expand testing procedures and requirements at the facility
  • address and increase staffing levels to minimize strain on the Elmira workforce while officers are being quarantined.

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