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'Test them all': Advocates, families urge NY to expand COVID-19 testing in prisons

'Test them all': Advocates, families urge NY to expand COVID-19 testing in prisons

From the The Citizen's coverage of COVID-19 in NY state prisons series
Cayuga Correctional Facility.JPG

Cayuga Correctional Facility in Moravia has been affected by a COVID-19 outbreak.

Theresa Grady is worried about her husband and she wants New York to take further action to ensure that COVID-19 doesn't spread in state correctional facilities. 

Grady is among the advocates and family members who are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to address concerns about the health of more than 36,000 incarcerated individuals in the prison system. Many of those concerns were aired during a state Senate hearing on COVID-19 in prisons and jails Tuesday. 

Grady's husband is incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Dutchess County. He has diabetes — a comorbidity that's been found in 8,934 COVID-19 deaths in New York. So far, though, he hasn't contracted the virus. 

"(Cuomo) knows that these people are vulnerable," Grady said. "I don't see why he just doesn't let them come home." 

DOCCS has released some parole violators who were jailed due to low-level technical offenses. The state also announced that, because of the risk of COVID-19, older inmates who are ages 55 and up, within 90 days of their release date and not serving a sentence for violent felony or sexual offenses would be freed. 

On Tuesday, DOCCS Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci told lawmakers that the incarcerated population has decreased by about 7,500 since January. That's partially due to the releases in response to the pandemic. 

While criminal justice advocacy groups and families want more incarcerated people released, they also want more testing in prisons. 

Rodney Holcombe, the New York criminal justice director for, said that all incarcerated people should have access to COVID-19 tests, including antibody tests. DOCCS confirmed Tuesday that while there has been some diagnostic testing, inmates haven't been checked for antibodies to determine if they've been infected at any point. 

According to the latest data published by DOCCS, there have been 13,012 tests administered in state prisons. That accounts for a little more than one-third of the statewide incarcerated population. 

Compared to some other states, including California and Florida, New York hasn't tested its incarcerated individuals at the same rate. Holcombe believes that needs to change. 

"Frankly, everyone needs that testing to ensure that we're really tracking how this disease is spreading in these facilities," he said. 

DOCCS committed to doing more testing in its correctional facilities. Annucci told legislators that the department is completing a round of testing in its western hub, which includes prisons in western New York counties. Every inmate in those facilities will be tested for the virus because of a spike in cases in the surrounding areas. 

Annucci said that DOCCS will look at more testing in other prisons. He expects that testing will "significantly increase" within the prison system. 

Holcombe hopes that testing rate will continue. 

"Testing has to be available to everyone and it has to be frequent and offered a variety of times and not just once," he said. 

Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at

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