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debates

Debate: The Rights of the Incarcerated During a Pandemic

by frank
May 27, 2020

Yesterday, franknews received a tip about an appealed case denying temporary release to an especially vulnerable incarcerated person during the COVID outbreak. His case will be back in court this Thursday – resulting in either a confirmation or reversal of his temporary release from the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, as was articulated in Supreme Court. 

This brings forward an issue and debate we’re invested in – the protection and rights of incarcerated people during this pandemic.

A few weeks ago we received two voice memos from Rikers Island Jail prompting us to urgently distribute up-to-date prevention information and news about COVID into prisons.

This case – also in New York State – pushes the debate further. Should the state incorporate vulnerability into their criteria for release and parole? Who is ultimately accountable and responsible for a timely address of requests by inmates and their legal representatives? How should the process be expedited for extreme circumstances?

A Closer Look at Jalil Muntaqim’s Case:

  • Jalil Muntaqim, formerly known as Anthony Bottom, has been in prison for 49 years on a 25 year minimum sentence. 
  • At the beginning of the COVID crisis, before anyone at Sullivan Correctional Facility tested positive for COVID-19, where Jalil is currently incarcerated, he was granted a temporary, emergency release by a judge on the grounds that he is elderly and medically vulnerable. 
  • The argument for release being: prisons can't protect or allow social distancing in close quarters. As such, he is being held unconstitutionally, according to the 8th amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment.
  • Attorney General Letitia James, representing DOCCS [Department of Corrections and Community Supervision], appealed and sought a stay of Jalil’s release.
  • Jalil remained in jail, his unit became infected, and he contracted, and is currently hospitalized with, COVID-19. 
  • Jalil and his team will argue the case on Thursday, May 28th at the The Appellate Division, Third Department in Albany, NY. 
  • Their request is not for termination of his sentence nor is it for permanent release or even parole. It is a request for life saving emergency release. 

The issue at large:

  • Few prisoners have been released due to the Coronavirus crisis, with no prioritization according to vulnerability
  • New York City is prioritizing the release of prisoners with 90 days or less remaining on their sentence, in addition to being 55 years of age, and not convicted of a violent felony or a sex offense.
  • Not enough prisoners have been released to make a significant impact on the living standards in the prisons. 
  • The New York State legislature is back in session this week. It is critical they do more to protect those in prison from COVID. 
  • Who is ultimately accountable and responsible for a timely addressing of requests by inmates and their legal representatives? 

The following is a letter of in support of Jalil from The New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic And Asian Legislative Caucus :