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New York Governor Cuomo Creates Prison Nursing Home During Pandemic

In June 2020, 96 elderly male prisoners were transferred to the Adirondack Correctional Facility in the mountainous North Country of New York State. Three years ago, the facility was converted to house teenagers prosecuted as adults, but the young prisoners were all transferred out to create a place to house vulnerable prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the North Country area has seen some of the lowest rates of infection in the state, at least one of the elderly prisoners was confirmed to have the virus shortly after arriving despite (being at that time) asymptomatic.

There are two places that have seen higher than average rates of infections and deaths compared to the general population: prisons and nursing homes. At the Adirondack facility, Cuomo has merged the worst of both worlds to create an extremely dangerous situation. Not only are these men at increased risk for severe symptoms of the virus due to their age, but their conditions of confinement will certainly present the perfect storm for spreading the virus throughout this vulnerable population.

Several social justice groups have criticized the move and pointed at the death toll in nursing homes throughout the state — over 6,000 dead as of early July.

“If one man is COVID-positive, this could transfer their plan from a prison nursing home to a death camp,” said Jose Saldana, director of Release Aging People in Prison Campaign and a former prisoner of 38 years.

These groups have highlighted the fact that elderly prisoners have a negligible recidivism rate — one which plummets past age 60 to single digits. Worse still is that over half of the prisoners moved to the facility are Black, and many are serving extreme sentences as a result of the draconian Rockefeller-era drug laws.

Some prison systems have embraced the pandemic as an opportunity to mass decarcerate and to address at least some of the most destructive outcomes of a system shackled to racism by its history. However, Cuomo has refused to release these elderly men, or even to shorten their sentences so the parole board could review them for release.

It is time for Cuomo to reconsider his policies and to begin the process of healing communities decimated by mass incarceration. As Jose Saldana said, “Our communities need these elders.” 


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