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Advocates call for immediate reforms after 4th state prison inmate dies of COVID-19

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Another inmate death in the New York State Prison System has prison reform advocates calling for emergency action. 

The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision reported the death of an inmate on Dec. 30 at the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden. DOCCS has not released the name of the individual, but said the death was due to COVID-19. This marks the fourth incarcerated person to die of the virus in state prisons in the last two weeks. Prison reform advocates, like Release Aging People in Prison Campaign Western New York Organizer Donna Robinson, say there is a lack of transparency coming from the state prison system.

“I call them the ‘Department of Corruption,’” she said.

Robinson, whose daughter is incarcerated within the state prison system, said the uptick in COVID-19 deaths in state prisons should be a warning that necessary precautions are not being taken to protect inmates.

“There’s hardly ever PPE available,” she said. “They need bleach to wash down things. They need things to keep their hands clean. The masks that they were wearing, they’ve washed them so many times, the loops around the ears are so large, that the masks keep slipping off their face. What good is that?”

As part of her advocacy, Robinson is pushing for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to grant clemency to incarcerated people who are 50 years of age or older who are eligible for parole release, imprisoned on a non-criminal technical parole violation or within a year of their release date. So far during the pandemic, Cuomo has issued 10 clemencies.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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