Inmate dies at Malone prison from COVID-19

Outbreak of 140 active cases inside the prison
Published: Feb. 5, 2021 at 7:29 PM EST
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MALONE, N.Y. (WCAX) - An inmate at the Franklin Correctional Facility has died from COVID-19 and the outbreak at the facility has now grown to 140 active cases.

“Fifty-five may not seem elderly in our society but in prison, it’s closer to 65,” said Jose Saldana, director of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign. He says he says he got a call from a friend about the death of Michael Watson after the victim’s family was notified. Saldana says he knew the man from his days in incarceration, “He had underlying health conditions. He was supposed to be released anyway.”

Saldana says the prison is set up with dormitory-style housing. “A dorm of 60 or 50 people, everyone in the dorm can get infected,” he said.

Department of Corrections officials say that just as the entire state saw an uptick in COVID cases following the holidays, so did the prisons. DOCCS says COVID is handled inside prisons just like it’s handled outside of them. Those with symptoms get a test and are put in isolation. Then, contact tracing begins.

But Saldana says there are problems with that method in congregate style housing. “They wait until the test results come back positive before they do anything,” he said.

DOCCS says over 60,000 COVID tests have been administered since the start of the pandemic and roughly 5,200 were positive.

Still, Saldana says more needs to be done for at-risk inmates. He is urging the state to consider new legislation that would make inmates 55 and up who have served more than 15 years, eligible for a parole hearing. “We’re talking about the people who pose, really the least threat to public safety,” he said. “The least threat to ever come back to prison.” Saldana fears as more variants of the virus surface, the spread inside prisons will get worse.

DOCCS says that they have nearly 1,100 inmates that are 65 years or older and have started vaccinating those inmates. Visitations are also temporarily suspended while cases remain high.

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