Not long after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez argued for “elderly clemency” for prisoners in Rikers Island in wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he would indeed release 300 inmates with non-violent misdemeanors.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez argued:
21 incarcerated individuals have already tested positive for COVID-19. Those are folks who have been able to get tested. And as we know, tests are very limited. They are rationed for people who are already exhibiting quite extreme symptoms so we have no idea how much this outbreak is going out. So there are a lot of things we are asking for. One, we need to provide elderly clemency.
There are plenty of people on Rikers that have been 60, 70, 80, 90 years old, who quite literally need someone to take care of them and they’re still kept in a cage in Rikers Island and in prisons throughout the United States. We need to ensure that we are granting elderly clemency in the United States.
Fox News reports New York City will immediately release 300 inmates from Rikers Island, the city’s main jail complex, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.
All of the inmates who will be released have been convicted of misdemeanors or some nonviolent crimes and have less than one year remaining in their sentence, the mayor said. In total, that number accounts for about 500 inmates, but he city screened out anyone who had been convicted for domestic violence or sexual assault, leaving 300 inmates that de Blasio assured he had the power to release.
De Blasio is also working with state officials and the city’s district attorneys to release about 100 people who are awaiting trial in city jails and around 700 people who were in jail on parole violations, the mayor said.
New York City jails have a daily inmate population of about 8,900, according to figures from the New York City Department of Corrections. Rikers Island, situated in the East River between Queens and the Bronx, houses around 5,000 inmates.
De Blasio also said he wants to release inmates who are over age 70 or who have any of the five preexisting health conditions that make them among the most vulnerable to coronavirus, but he does not have the authority to release everyone in that category. He said the city will be working with prosecutors to sort out legal issues on a case-by-case basis to release those inmates.
De Blasio said the city so far has suffered 131 deaths from COVID-19. New York City has faced at least 14,904 confirmed cases.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters Monday that coronavirus has an attack rate of about one in 1,000 in the New York City metro area.