Albany, NY – New York correctional officers are not allowed to bring or wear their own face masks to work with them in detention facilities because it violates the uniform.
“Correction officers can and do wear a mask when appropriate to the medical situation. There is a Department Directive that outlines what can be worn with the uniform. The masks are not allowed unless medically necessary for the job and area they work in and then will be provided to them,” the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said in a statement, according to WETM.
The New York State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have not recommended that the general public wear face masks.
Instead, they recommend that people wash their hands and use hand sanitizer, WETM reported.
The corrections department said they took proactive measure to mitigate the risk to corrections officers and prisoners, including putting a stop to prison visits early on, WGRZ reported.
The department also said that “internal transfers of incarcerated individuals has been stopped except for medical, disciplinary and other exigent circumstances to ensure the continued health and safety of our staff and incarcerated population,” WETM reported.
But the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA), the union that represents correctional officers, said that the state is not doing enough to protect its members, WGRZ reported.
“They did suspend it for today, but from indications we’re being given right now they’re still looking at putting buses back on the road as soon as tomorrow,” NYSCOPBA Western Region Vice President Mark Deburgomaster told WGRZ. “Whether that’s going to be for just essential moves, we haven’t gotten clarification. But I do know the transport buses are being told they will run tomorrow… at what levels or numbers we haven’t been informed of yet.”
Deburgomaster pointed to the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden as a “hot spot” where numerous employees have been placed under quarantine.
***“***As of this morning it’s 42 officers, two sergeants and one lieutenant… Just out of that facility,” Deburgomaster told WGRZ.
He said there are about 100 correctional officers who have been exposed and told to quarantine in the western part of the state alone.
Sources told WGRZ that most of the coronavirus cases at Wende can be traced back to two inmates who were recently transferred into the facility, and one of them was disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
The union has recommended that “state ready” prisoners who are scheduled to be transferred from local jails into state prisons should be held where they are for the foreseeable future.
“If there was someone in Westchester that tested positive, we don’t want to have that somebody coming in from Westchester into the state system,” NYSCOPBA Michael Power told WGRZ***.*** “And this is the same thing that happened, I believe working with background information, that happened with this Weinstein deal.”
The union boss explained that it’s not just about getting infected, it’s about what happens to the correctional system when too many officers cannot work.
“We’re now worried about the number of officers being quarantined which vastly effect our staffing abilities and to provide the services that are needed,” Power said.
He also said there isn’t enough personal protective equipment for the corrections officers who are working and that social distancing is unrealistic in their line of work, WGRZ reported.
“We don’t have the personal protection equipment in place to effectively prevent our members from catching this, and then bringing this outside the facility to their homes**,**” Power explained.
As a stopgap measure, the union has suggested that the state stop all construction projects that are being done at state correctional facilities, WGRZ reported.
Every construction worker who enters a prison property must be checked for contraband, and so must their vehicles and equipment.
“I do know that if they shut down the construction alone, that would free up massive numbers of officers that are currently taking care of construction, when they could be actually be better used on the galleries,” Deburgomaster said. “This could also slow the number of people coming into the facilities and reduce possible exposures.”