ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – A protest has formed outside of the Elmira Correctional Facility amid hundreds of COVID-19 cases among inmates.

According to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, there are 459 cases of COVID-19 at the prison, as of Oct. 23. This is the largest cluster inside a New York State prison, forcing a pause on visitation.

Organizers tell 18 News that the protest is made up of family members of inmates and multiple organizations, including Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) Campaign, the #HALTsolitary Campaign, Center for Community Alternatives, VOCAL-NY, New Hour for Women and Children – Long Island, Free the People ROC, and Unchained. 

Signs at the protest include “Free Our Elders,” “Stop COVID Behind Bars,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Clemency Now,” and “Incarcerated Black Lives Matter.”

Additional protests are taking place at the capital in Albany, Gov. Cuomo’s New York City Office in Manhattan, and on Long Island outside State Senator Todd Kaminski’s office.

NY State DOCCS, released a statement saying:

DOCCS has worked closely with officials at NYS DOH to aggressively and proactively protect the state’s 52 correctional facilities. The first steps in response are the same whether the individual is in prison or not – isolate those who are COVID-positive, trace their contacts, and quarantine anyone who was exposed.

According to NY State DOOCS:

  • DOCCS is in the midst of testing every incarcerated person in state prisons, which will be complete by the end of November.
  • DOCCS deployed rapid testing to Elmira, Greene and Cayuga Correctional Facilities, in coordination with DOH, to test all staff
  • DOCCS suspended visitation at both Greene and Elmira Correctional Facilities due to the outbreak, and visitation is suspended at Southport CF due to its location within an orange micro-cluster zone.
  • When visitation restarts, DOCCS will require all visitors to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test from within the last 7 days
  • Long-term, DOCCS will maintain a supply of thousands of rapid tests to deploy to any facility that sees an increase in cases.

As of October 27, 2020, the total incarcerated population in state correctional facilities is 36,076. This represents both a total reduction in excess of 8,000 individuals since January 1st of this year and the lowest total incarcerated population in New York State prisons since 1986. That is a 50% decline in population since the Department’s high of 72,773 in 1999.

Additionally, due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Department has implemented early release opportunities for individuals based on thorough individualized reviews that ensure each person is connected to the services and support that they need to succeed in the community, such as housing and health care.

As of October 26, 2020 the actions listed above have resulted in the early release of 3,057 individuals, including:

  • 791 individuals who have had their low-level parole violations cancelled;
  • Low level was defined as no violent behavior, no possession of firearm or weapon, not a sex offender who had prohibitive contact with minor or victim and not a domestic violence offender who had prohibitive contact with a victim;
  • 2,254 individuals who were committed on non-violent, non-sex offenses and were within 90 days of their approved release date; and
  • 12 women who were pregnant or postpartum, committed on non-violent, non-sex offenses, and were within 180 days of their approved release date.