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Paul Wright quoted in article about Dehumanization of Inmates digging mass graves.

Sputnik News, April 2, 2020.

New York’s Rikers Island Inmates ‘Dehumanized’ By Digging Mass Graves for City’s COVID-19 Dead

In addition to producing hand sanitizer for the state of New York, inmates at Rikers Island have been enlisted to dig graves for victims of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, even as the virus spreads through the facility itself. However, according to two journalists, these human rights abuses are simply business as usual for the prison.

Paul Wright, the founder and executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of Prison Legal News, and Kevin Gosztola, a writer for and co-host of the podcast Unauthorized Disclosure, join Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear on Thursday to discuss how the recent pandemic is impacting the New York City prison.

Citing data provided by the Legal Aid Society in New York City, Newsweek reported that the rate of infection inside Rikers Island is eight times that of New York City and 78 times the infection rate of the US as a whole. Wright told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou that it should come as no surprise that Rikers Island would be a breeding ground for such a contagious disease.

“The facility has long had lots of problems … related to brutality, corruption and, of course, medical care - that’s even at the best of times,” he detailed. Wright went on to highlight that several infectious diseases have found “fertile ground” in Rikers Island, such as Legionnaires' disease, Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS and drug-resistant tuberculosis, the latter of which “swept through Rikers Island around a decade ago.”

He explained that this shows that there’s a history of crises popping up and exposing how inept the prison is in terms of dealing with the spread of disease. Nevertheless, there appear to have been no steps taken to prevent future outbreaks.

“Generally, the lives of the guards or the staff are much more valuable from the perspective of the people running these places,” he argued.

It was revealed earlier this week by The Intercept that Rikers Island inmates were being offered $6 an hour and personal protective equipment (PPE) to assist with mass gravedigging at the public cemetery on Hart Island. While New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office contended that the gravedigging was not “COVID-specific,” The Intercept’s Ryan Grim claimed the inclusion of PPE “leaves little doubt” about the reason for the offer - which pays a significant wage compared to the average $0.62 per hour earned by New York inmates.

Gosztola said that it appears as if some states “hard-up” for labor believe they can get away with putting inmates to work, despite the fact that they are clearly exposing them to the threat of COVID-19 infection.

“They’re preparing for the surge in deaths that continue in New York,” he said, arguing that this is just one example of “how little these people are valued” and “how dehumanized they are in our system.”

New York City has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, with more than 1,500 deaths from the disease and more than 45,000 cases.



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