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a bad thing gets worse

Overflowing sewage, no soap, untested cases: Rikers Island highlights coronavirus pandemic in prisons

Rikers Island — New York City's main jail that's supposed to be closed by 2026 — is a natural hotbed for coronavirus spread. Beds are closer than the CDC-recommended 6 feet apart, facilities are entirely shared, and prisoners are shuffled around in large groups, Slate notes. And as Brooklyn Defender Services, an advocacy group providing legal defense, reports, there are plenty of reasons to believe the complex is home to more than the 52 cases it has reported so far.

Brooklyn Defender Services' clients in Rikers have so far reported "overflowing sewage in a housing unit" that was used "before, during, and after the incident;" "squalid conditions" that staff refuse to clean out of fear of catching COVID-19; "symptomatic people not being tested for COVID-19;" a total lack of soap; and many more disturbing conditions. People who were in contact with a guard now believed to have COVID-19 weren't given any precautions to prevent spread, and many are now symptomatic, Brooklyn Defender Services also said in a Thursday press release.

With cramped cases and new people coming and going every day, prisons across the U.S. are at high risk for coronavirus spread. That's prompted calls for releasing elderly and other at-risk prisoners; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has so far ordered 300 prisoners released from Rikers amid the pandemic.