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Positive COVID-19 test at North Country prison housing older inmates

(WCAX)
Published: Jul. 8, 2020 at 12:27 PM EDT
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Nearly 100 New York inmates 55 and older are in a North Country prison, sent there to avoid the coronavirus. But now one of them has tested positive for COVID-19. Our Kelly O'Brien spoke with a group that wants to see these inmates granted clemency.

The Release Aging People from Prison Campaign is making their plea to the governor to release aging inmates, saying sentences shouldn't be etched in stone and they shouldn't be left inside to die from the coronavirus.

Jose Saldana was released from prison about two years ago at the age of 66. Since his release, he's fought to help aging inmates get out. He says he is working with New York lawmakers to get two bills passed that would take a look at older inmates' parole eligibility after serving 15 years.

"It's a process," said Saldana, with the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign.

With a pandemic putting older inmates at risk of complications, he says the time for action is now.

"The only avenue that we have left now is for the governor to issue clemency or connotation of time," Saldana said.

DOCCS says statewide they have already let out 1,300 of the state's 38,000 inmates because of COVID-19.

Inmates must meet criteria to be released; they need to be within 90 days of their parole and serving time for nonviolent crimes.

"It's a terrible risk for everyone inside and outside," Martha Swan said.

Swan is the director of John Brown Lives! The nonprofit in the Adirondacks promotes social justice and human rights. She says releasing the 95 inmates in the Adirondack Correctional Facility is the right thing. They are all 55 and older and Swan says research shows inmates that old are not a threat to their community. But she points out they are at risk of complications from COVID-19.

"It's not a well-founded fear or concern that by releasing these elders that the community is put in jeopardy," Swan said.

DOCCS says they will continue to look at inmates and their eligibility to be released and in the coming days and weeks, they plan to release hundreds of additional inmates.

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