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Protesters call for release of some Holding Center inmates, coronavirus protections

With news that two Erie County jail deputy sheriffs have tested positive for COVID-19, inmate rights advocates circled the Holding Center on Tuesday, beeping car horns and seeking prisoner releases.

The Holding Center has been picketed for years over complaints of the mistreatment of prisoners and a long series of deaths inside. This was different, with more than a dozen cars circling the block around the facility, constantly beeping horns in cars, carrying signs protesting conditions and demanding the release of people locked inside.

Monica Lynch was one of the drivers.

"They killed my brother last year at the Holding Center and we got to stand together to make some changes around here," Lynch said. "They closed the jail two weeks ago with no visitors, but they haven't cleaned it physically themselves in the whole two weeks. They've been bringing other inmates in. The deputies have coronavirus. Everybody's getting it. They just don't care."

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Lynch's diabetic brother, Connell Burrell, died at Buffalo General Hospital in May of last year after an ambulance ride from the Holding Center. A holding center medical staffer was fired after the death.

Standing up for Racial Justice organizer Josie Diebold said new jail measures are needed in this time of coronavirus.

"We're specifically out here calling on local legislators and officials and judges to halt new bookings, but then to release as many people as possible," Diebold said. "This especially includes folks that are in here on technical violations or pre-trial on something that's bondable, who have fewer than a few months left in their sentence issues as possible, members of the aging community and especially those that have immune-compromised systems."

The holding center's population has been down substantially as the new bail system fell into place. Visitors are not being allowed and the facility is encouraging video visits of prisoners.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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