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Coronavirus Lawsuit: Dept. Of Correction Staff Goes After NYC For Not Protecting Them From 'Cesspool Of Illness'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Department of Correction employees are suing the city over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Between detainees and staff, more than 1,200 people have been sick and a dozen have died, CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas reported on Tuesday.

"Steven," whose last name CBS2 agreed not to share, is among the nearly 1,700 inmates released since the outbreak started ravaging city jails.

He was on Rikers Island for a technical violation of his probation, which means he was not facing any new charges.

"They would rally just tell us nobody is sick, and the next thing you know a captain is sick, an inmate is sick," Steven said.


Concerned for his safety, Steven was living in dorms where he says social distancing was impossible.

"How are you going to do that when there's 50 men inside of a dorm no bigger than a hall people throw parties in?" he wondered. "They told us to wash our hands. They never gave hand sanitizer, no gloves, nothing."

A lawsuit filed by the various correction unions calls the city's jails a "cesspool of illness."

They want to end 24-hour shifts, and require recovering staff to test negative for COVID-19 before being ordered back to work.

As of Friday, 373 current detainees had tested positive for the virus, three have died, and exponentially more have been exposed.

More than 900 Department of Correction staff members have tested positive since the outbreak began. Six officers have died.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Union leaders say city officials were too slow to respond.

Correction officer Elias Husamudeen is the president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association that had to sue the city to get officers free testing and better sanitation of their work spaces.

"Being reactive, we feel, is causing correction officers to die," Husamudeen said.

Unlike other law enforcement agencies, correction officers had to fight for protective equipment.

"We're not going to wait for the Department of Correction. We're not going to wait for the City of New York to provide us with the PPE and the things that we need," Husamudeen said.

But the focus of the jail outbreak has mainly been on the release of detainees, especially those who are older than 50 or have underlying health conditions. Almost all of the 4,000 who remain are awaiting trial.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said it should not be a death sentence and is calling for half of the inmates to be released.

"We're talking about seniors who have comorbidities. We're talking about people who have less than a year to serve. We're talking about people who may be awaiting bail. So these are not folks who we are saying are hyper-dangerous to the community," Williams said.

Correction officers don't agree, pointing to the dozens of released inmates who have reoffended.

Still, officers, advocates, and detainees say the jails have become a petri dish, and more needs to be done to keep everyone safe.

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