One of those deaths was 60-year-old Leonard Carter, who was serving out the last few weeks of his decades-long sentence at the Queensboro Correctional Facility in Long Island City.
Carter contracted the disease inside the minimum-security prison, where advocates and families of detainees say it’s impossible to social distance due to the living conditions. Five other inmates at Queensboro tested positive for the virus, and have since been transferred to another facility upstate.
Advocates who have protested and held a vigil for Carter last week are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to use his broad clemency powers to release people like Carter, who was so close to tasting freedom once again.
They want the governor to release all inmates who have less than a year left in their sentence, as well as those who have been granted parole but are still behind bars. Carter was granted parole in January, but died three months later.
Instead, Cuomo has ordered the release of a limited number of incarcerated people. Those with less than 90 days remaining on their sentence, are 55 years old or older, and whose crimes were not a violent felony or sex offense qualify.
According to reports, only 171 state prisoners meet that eligibility, which is far too few to make a real difference.
Governor Cuomo should heed the call of advocates and exercise his clemency powers to save more lives in the state prison system. Incarcerated people, particularly those who are older and have served most of their sentences, deserve a chance to live their lives free from COVID-19.
Without more action, New York will certainly see more deaths in its prisons.