Several local progressive groups continue to protest against alleged medical malpractice at Broome County Jail amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Last Tuesday, Citizen Action of New York, Truth Pharm and Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier (JUST) organized a car rally outside of Broome County Executive Jason Garnar’s daily briefing in front of Broome County’s Taste NY Market. While most of the protesters remained in their cars, those who were outside wore masks and practiced social distancing, according to JUST founding member Bill Martin, a Bartle professor of sociology at Binghamton University. The groups were calling for the immediate release of inmates at high risk of infection and those who have been arrested for nonviolent charges to prevent the spread of the virus within the facility.
The protest followed the publication of a New York Post article on April 17, in which five inmates in the jail alleged that they were not being given proper protective equipment while being forced to clean up after COVID-19 patients.
Broome County Sheriff David Harder, who oversees the jail, said the claims were false, according to the Press & Sun-Bulletin. As of May 1, Harder said there has been one federal and three New York state Supreme Court rulings in favor of the jail and their inmate medical treatment.
The Broome County Jail has been accused of medical malpractice prior to the pandemic, as the jail has seen more than 10 inmate deaths since 2011. JUST has been actively protesting these deaths for years. Martin called the jail “the prime incubator and spreader of COVID-19 locally” in a blog post titled “COVID Denialism and Media Complicity.” Martin wrote in an email that inmates are currently in grave danger.
“The physical layout of the jail does not permit any degree of safety,” Martin wrote. “It is impossible to ensure social distancing, no sanitizer is provided to the incarcerated, inmates move between pods constantly making isolation impossible [and] rates of infection, to the extent they are revealed, are very high.”
Harder wrote in an email that the allegations, including the jail not providing sanitizer, are false. According to Harder, the jail has isolated inmates who have had the virus while abiding by the requirements issued by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Broome County Health Department.
“All officers must wear masks,” Harder wrote. “Inmates are required to wear them when they are out of their cells. The inmates get new masks every three days. They are given sanitizer and required to keep their cells clean. If an inmate had the virus, they are isolated for 14 days. They are then moved to a different cell, and the cell they were in is steam cleaned.”
As of April 29, Harder said there is one inmate in custody who has COVID-19.
“We have worked hard to keep the virus from spreading not only with the inmates but also with the staff working with them,” Harder wrote.
Martin said Harder and other Broome County officials, including Garnar and District Attorney Michael Korchak, have been resistant to the idea of releasing inmates. He noted other counties across New York state have been doing so to stop the virus from spreading within facilities.
He proposed that in addition to improving jail conditions and releasing some inmates, Harder consider implementing a “robust reentry program” to help inmates adjust to their new reality.
“Persons returning home need reentry support, which the county does not provide,” Martin wrote. “Efforts by the Family Enrichment Network’s Walk With Me program are filling the gap, but that program relies upon erratic donations and volunteers. Persons return but have [to] face closures at social services offices, overcrowded and closed local shelters with dorm, bunk bed housing, lack of food and [lack of] medicine.”
In addition to a reentry program, Martin said he’d like to see a long-term end to cash bail, increased support for those struggling with mental health, a decrease in the jail’s population and a decrease in the jail’s budget of more than 50 percent.
As JUST and other groups continue to call for the releases and reforms, Harder said the jail is focused on doing its best to stop the spread of COVID-19 at the facility.
“Remember, the staff here [are] concerned of catching the virus and maybe taking it home, so we are taking many precautions,” Harder wrote. “It is up to the courts to decide who is to be released from custody.”