38 NYC inmates, including at Rikers, test positive for coronavirus

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New York City’s vast jail system, which includes the notorious Rikers Island complex, is confronting the nation’s largest coronavirus jail outbreak with 38 people testing positive to date.

The number includes 21 male inmates at Rikers and other city jails. On Friday, city officials reported that only one person behind bars -- a male inmate at Rikers -- had tested positive for the virus.

The head of the board that oversees the city’s jail system, Jacqueline Sherman, described a jail system in crisis due to the coronavirus outbreak in a letter to New York’s criminal justice leaders.

Another inmate, meanwhile, became the first in the country to test positive for the virus inside a federal jail.

RIKERS ISLAND INMATE IS FIRST TO TEST POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS, DE BLASIO ANNOUNCES

The inmate was at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. He tested positive for COVID-19 after complaining of chest pains Thursday.

The Rikers Island jail complex in New York with the Manhattan skyline in the background.

The Rikers Island jail complex in New York with the Manhattan skyline in the background. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Sherman said the board learned that 12 Department of Correction employees, five Correctional Health Services employees, and 21 people in custody at Rikers and city jails had tested positive for the coronavirus.

At least 58 othwea were being monitored in the prison’s contagious disease and quarantine units, she said.

CORONAVIRUS LEADS SOME OVERSEAS PRISONS TO RELEASE INMATES; RIKERS, OTHER US PRISONS CONSIDER THE SAME

“It is likely these people have been in hundreds of housing areas and common areas over recent weeks and have been in close contact with many other people in custody and staff,” Sherman said.

She warned that the number of coronavirus cases could skyrocket.

“The best path forward to protecting the community of people housed and working in the jails is to rapidly decrease the number of people housed and working in them,” Sherman said.

New York officials have consistently downplayed the number of infections in its prisons and jails, The Associated Press has found in conversations with current and former inmates.

City correction officials did not respond to messages from the AP seeking comment on the letter.

Late Saturday, the department acknowledged 19 inmates had tested positive — two fewer than in the board’s letter — and 12 staff members.

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Friday night, prosecutors in New York City agreed to release 56 Rikers inmates on their own recognizance to reduce the density of the prison population.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.