Husamudeen Rips Correction Dept., Mayor for 'Failing' COs on Supplies

By: 
RICHARD KHAVKINE

The head of the city Correction Officers’ union March 31 slammed the Department of Correction for failing to provide protective equipment and supplies to his members as the coronavirus threatens to besiege correctional facilities.

“This department is failing Correction Officers, it’s failing the inmates and most of all it’s failing the city,” Elias Husamudeen, the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said during an afternoon press conference near the bridge leading to Rikers Island.

‘Fight Every Day’

He said that when it became clear the DOC would not be providing enough equipment to officers, the union purchased 25,000 N95 masks, 15,000 pairs of protective gloves and bundles of hand sanitizer, all of which it began distributing to COs March 27.

“We’ve had to fight every day to keep our officers safe,” including for approval to wear the personal protection equipment, Mr. Husamudeen said, just as it had when requesting that the city suspend inmate visits and urging the segregation of new detainees. “Why should the union have to go out and purchase PPE for our 10,000 members?” he added. A union spokesman did not have a price tag for the purchases.

Mr. Husamudeen also called on Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann to convene a task force to coordinate a cleaning and sanitizing regimen for the jails. “Inmates don't even want to do this,” he said. “They don’t even want to work. They don’t want to be exposed.”

The Legal Aid Society, the Brooklyn Defender Services and other advocate groups said their clients had told attorneys that their cells and common areas within the jails were filthy and that they lacked proper cleaning equipment, including soap.

DOC Protocols

As of Wednesday morning, 169 staff members and 184 inmates had tested positive for the virus, the DOC said. Correctional Health Services officials have declined to provide the number of inmates who have been quarantined or isolated, but Mr. Husamudeen said they totaled more than 800.

According to The Legal Aid Society, inmates’ coronavirus infection rate at Rikers on March 31 was 39 cases per 1,000 inmates, nearly eight times the rate—.5 per 1,000—in New York City as a whole. Those numbers do not include inmates who have been released after testing positive.

The DOC, though, contends that Legal Aid's calculations "fail to account for numerous variables," including that CHS "is testing anyonewith COVID-like symptoms" while the rate of testing elsewhere in the city is much lower.

The department added that the release of more than 900 inmates from city jails since mid-March means jails "have a much larger fluid population." It also noted that the disease "is expanding exponentially everywhere, not just in jails."

Medical Screening for All

Among the department's protocols is a medical screening of all persons coming into DOC custody for signs and symptoms of the virus, including screenings at pre-arraignment. DOC staff have also been told to refer inmates who are exhibiting COVID-19-like symptoms to CHS.

“The Department of Correction is doing everything we can to safely and humanely house people in our custody amid the broader COVID-19 crisis," the DOC's Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, Peter Thorne, said in a statement. "We have made tremendous efforts to increase social distancing throughout our facilities, and escalated our hygiene and sanitation protocols in accordance with guidance from the city’s Department of Health. ”

The DOC said it was providing masks to staff and inmates working or housed in areas under quarantine, as well as to inmates with symptoms.

It said it also was committed to "robust sanitation protocols throughout its facilities and transportation vehicles, and has ramped up existing cleaning policies to combat the potential spread of the coronavirus."

Wants Task Force

Still, Mr. Husamudeen sent Commissioner Brann a letter requesting the cleaning task force. “Her answer was she didn't have the resources or the staff,” he said. He disputed that assessment.

“We’re at the epicenter of the epicenter,” he said. “And it’s time for the Mayor of the City of New York, for Mayor de Blasio, and especially for Commissioner Brann to get their act together, because if we get a real situation and this thing starts to spread, it's going to spread like wildfire, and New York is going to have a problem on their hands.”

The union is also demanding that a testing center for officers be set up on Rikers Island. Mr. Husamudeen said Correction Officers have been going to their own health-care providers to get tested but must wait for days before getting results and work their tours meanwhile.

Although guidance from city health officials suggests that only symptomatic individuals get tested, a majority of the City Council signed a letter by Queens Councilman Robert Holden endorsing a testing facility and screening station on Rikers. 

“I have COs who are not going home because they don’t want to spread this to their families,” Mr. Husamudeen said. “We need help.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who joined Mr. Husamudeen at the press conference, also called on DOC and city officials to provide equipment to law-enforcement officers, including COs. 

“The numbers are clearly indicating that we need to address this issue before it gets out of control,” he said.

He said it was becoming increasingly apparent that Federal health authorities would soon be directing everyone to wear a mask.

“We need to start with the men and women who are part of our law-enforcement entities,” said Mr. Adams, who retired as a Captain from the NYPD in 2006 and has long been a supporter of DOC staff.