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Handful of positive COVID-19 tests in federal jails in NYC, statistics show

The statistics for the Metropolitan Correctional Center in

The statistics for the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, which has 760 inmates, showed five inmates tested, with four positive, along with seven staff.   Credit: Charles Eckert

The federal Bureau of Prisons says only a handful of detainees and staff at its three jail facilities in New York City have tested positive for the coronavirus.

But the statistics also show that just a handful of detainees have been tested for the virus.

The bureau began releasing the statistics Friday under an order from Roslynn Mauskopf, the federal Chief District Court Judge in the Eastern District.

Judge Mauskopf issued the order Thursday primarily in response to a growing number of motions by defense attorneys that their clients should be released to some sort of home detention.

The Metropolitan Detention Center, or MDC, in Brooklyn, where most federal prisoners from Long Island are detained, has 1,600 inmates. Of those, seven have been tested, with two being positive, according to the statistics. In addition five staff members tested positive.

The statistics for the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, which has 760 inmates, showed five inmates tested, with four positive, along with seven staff.

And statistics for the Queens Detention Facility, a privately run jail under a federal contract that houses 220 inmates, show four inmates tested, with one positive, along with seven staff.    

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In addition to a mushrooming number of suits for release by individual prisoners, federal public defenders based in Brooklyn also have filed a single suit calling for the release of 537 of the of 1,600 detainees in the MDC in Brooklyn who the BOP classifies at heightened medical risk.

In addition to calling for the prisoners' release, the suit calls for the BOP “ to put in place a comprehensive testing program for incarcerated people and staff.”

The suit also says: “Because of their pre-existing chronic medical conditions and the nature of the jail environment, Petitioners cannot be adequately protected from contracting COVID-19 if they remain confined in the MDC. Instead, they face a risk of serious illness if they become infected.”

Attorneys for individual inmates at the MDC also agree that all inmates should be tested.

Attorney Anthony La Pinta, who is preparing a motion for release of a client from the MDC, said Friday that because of a shortage of test kits, “The Bureau of Prisons is [apparently] unable to test every inmate and staff member due to the limited availability and cost of the tests. This is creating a very dangerous health risk.”

La Pinta says his client, Kotarra Jackson of Riverhead, has serious respiratory problems, including asthma. Jackson, who is charged with drug dealing, was arrested in 2018 as part of a federal and local crackdown on the Bloods gang in the East End.

But the BOP says it is taking extensive steps to control the coronavirus in the metropolitan area and around the country.

As for not testing all inmates in the metropolitan area, Sue Allison, a BOP spokeswoman in Washington, said Friday that the bureau followed CDC guidelines, which recommends that not everyone needed to be tested.

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