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GEO Jail in New York City Sees Rapid Spread of Coronavirus

A GEO Group-run jail in Queens, New York City, saw coronavirus cases surge in the facility in May 2020.

The 222-bed medium/minimum-security federal Queens Detention Facility, New York City’s only privately run jail, reported 25 prisoners and 10 staff members tested positive for the virus, according to the Queens Daily Eagle in an April 15, 2020 report. It cited a “court-ordered report” issued April 15 by GEO Group.

Meanwhile, at the nearby state-run Queensboro Correctional Facility, Leonard Carter, 60, died on April 14 of complications of COVID-19 just six weeks from his scheduled release date. His passing renewed calls to release more prisoners from the jail.

 “It is a horrifying and preventable tragedy that Leonard Carter passed away from COVID-19 a mere six weeks from his release date and having been already granted parole,” said Katie Schaffer, director of advocacy and organizing at the Center for Community Alternatives. “For those within a year of release and those — like Mr. Carter — who have already been granted parole, there is no legitimate argument for making people complete these sentences, only a hunger for maximum punishment that will increase the death toll of this pandemic.”

GEO Group, which reported $2.48 billion in revenue last year, contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service to detain adults before their federal sentencing dates. Five cooperating witnesses at the Queens facility alleged that the “feds have abandoned them as the private lockup has become overrun with coronavirus,” the New York Daily News reported.

“I did a deal with the government and the government is giving me a slap in the face, saying I don’t deserve to go home,” one detainee told the newspaper from a quarantined unit of around 40 people. “I’m risking my life and giving them the convictions they want. If I’m working on your side you should be trying to get me out instead of keeping me in an environment that is dangerous.”

Speaking to the Queens Eagle, one prisoner told the newspaper: “I feel scared that I’m in a f------ jail that’s disgusting and people are getting quarantined for the COVID virus. Everyone’s coughing, sneezing on top of each other.”

“The sickest inmates in the jail have been isolated in the jail’s eight-cell restrictive housing unit, known as the ‘SHU,’ inmates and attorneys say,” the Queens Daily Eagle reported. “The rest sleep in open dormitories in seven housing units.”

Fewer staff are working because they ill or they are simply not coming in, the Eagle reports.

“They leave us by ourselves for an hour or so because there’s not enough officers,” a prisoner told the newspaper. “Nobody’s watching. It makes it unsafe. If we were to get into a fight in here, nobody could stop it, nobody would press the alarm button to call for back up.” 



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