04/22/20 Lorenzo Jones

This week on Century of Lies, a discussion about COVID-19 and jails, specifically Rikers Island in New York, featuring Marcus Brown, an individual recently released from Rikers; New York State Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley; Tahanee Dunn, Prisoner Rights Attorney with the Bronx Defenders Prisoners' Rights Project; Corey Stoughton, Attorney-In-Charge of Special Litigation at the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn, NY; Lorenzo Jones, Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice; and Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Research Scientist at Columbia University's Justice Lab.

Century of Lies
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Lorenzo Jones
Katal Center for Health
Download: Audio icon COL042220.mp3


Century of Lies


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens prosecutors and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization and the end of prohibition. Let us investigate A Century Of Lies.

HOST DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of lies. I'm your host Doug McVay editor of DrugWarfacts.org. Well this week. We're going to stay with the ongoing human rights catastrophe. That is Rikers Island.And in this time of pandemic of covid-19 people are getting sick and dying in these Petri dishes that we call jails and prisons Rikers Island has always been a nightmare and in the context of this new pandemic. It has only gotten worse; recently the Fortune Society held a webinar to talk about what's going on in Rikers Island and talk about what can be done about it Fortune Society is and nonprofit based in New York. Their vision is to foster a world where all who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated will thrive as positive contributing members of society, some of the people on that call. We're going to hear from first up Marcus Brown. He was recently released from Rikers Island.

MARCUS BROWN: Well then, a experience that one of the last experience I have I think there's no significance that for those as concerned about what actually took place on Rikers Island out of how to buy this was allowed to spread. We went to sick call one day and when we got it it was five of us. That was a policy of rewarding only five people could go at the time. They didn't they didn't have any apparatus to take out taxes anything. All they did was take out blood pressure and I told them about my lung was hurting other individuals that have flu-like symptoms. They didn't take out temperatures. They just sent us back to the living area and they didn't give us no medication or nothing like that two days later one of the individuals that went to sit called with us. He fell out and he ended up actually test being tested positive for the coronavirus at that time. It was sending them from West facility to Bellevue with the next at the open back up to EMT center 76 which they had just closed with City inmates. O ther city sending me back. But the open that back up for those that were tested positive about the quarantine and he was sent there. We was informed this by the officers that came back to get his property. I'm done with that's just some of the brief the brief things. I don't want to take up too much time, but my story is quite extensive and I hope whatever influence I have will be useful and that's something can be done forever to better because I noticed they stopped speaking on the news about anything about Rikers Island about what's going on. And when I left in the building I was in there was definitely because that's why they hung the letter on every door. There was definitely somebody in every house, They tested positive. That's what that man. And we were still allowed to interact with everybody and we was even released. It was a segment of us that had symptoms, I had symptoms on the day I was released. So that means that the governor of-,I was released by the governor of the state of New York or rather It was by the New York County defenders, but the governor allowed 600 people to be released. We are now part of about 500 city center inmates and there was a segment of that population who definitely was a protected by the coronavirus that was allowed to be sent back to the community, thereby contributing to the infection of our community family members and even a death rate- which definitely probably happen, but that was because of the policy and the procedures of it was known, or unknowingly, I'm not trying to, but I'm just tuning in with that and hopefully at the end I can give some suggestion but I think might be done but that's probably irrelevant at this day and time because the whole Riker Island is probably infected, yeah entirely at this moment the time that I left just my building long and when I talked to other people who had been released. They said the same thing was happening to their buildings.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Marcus Brown. He's an individual who was recently released from Rikers and he was participating in a webinar hosted by the Fortune society, you're listening to Century of lies. I'm your host Doug McVeigh. Let's hear now from New York State assemblyman Walter Mosley.

WALTER T. MOSLEY: As you know, myself as well as with SenatorBrian Benjamin have been spearheading this legislation in Albany, but clearly with real-time events that are taking place. It's really has- I would say highlighted some of the dysfunctionality that we're experiencing here in Albany particularly as it relates to CJ reform and issues across the board. We had a great call, all last week, early last week. And at the very end of the call, you know, you know, obviously we talked about Albany and governing him you have to include politics and what was disheartening at the very end of the call, you know all up until that point. We're pretty much in agreement as to what we need to do what needed to be presented and what efforts of you to take place, but at the end of the day it takes three to tango and in lieu of what took place with the rollbacks to bail we understood that this would have a trickling effect on other CJ reform initiatives regardless of the situation regardless of what's happening in real time regardless of what's happening this pandemic and how it's impacting those who are in our CJ systems- that we would ultimately have to have not only ours my speaker but also have the leader of the Senate come to an understanding that you know, we have to push this piece of public policy forward but at the end of the day do we really have a do we have someone of like Mind and like will I know my sent the senator is but I think in the back of his mind, he understands that he has to convince Andrea stewart-cousins and whether or not this is the politically prudent thing to do for them and it wasn't positive. It wasn't something that he thought he could get done and I don't want to go too far into what we discussed but that's kind of like the elephant in the room when it comes to us possibly coming back in May, which we're hearing and whether or not we can you know, garner enough momentum and support not only in our conference but also in the Senate to push this piece of public policy for but let's be very honest with you. I you know, I'm not going to say they can't do it. I'm not going to say you don't want to do it but I'm very it's very pessimistic that they will do. So that's where we are right now will continue to push forward. We'll continue to work with The Advocates and legal aid and everyone else but I'm also very pragmatic in terms of what's happening in real time. And what are some of these kind of the political hurdles that you know that were faced with so, thanks again. I appreciate everybody

DOUG MCVAY: that was Walter T. Mosley's a New York state assemblyman and he was participating in a webinar on Rikers Island and covid-19 webinar was hosted by the Fortune Society now, let's go to Lorenzo Jones; Lorenzo's the co-executive director of the Center for Health Equity and Justice.

LORENZO JONES: I had to tell you in a span of five days the think the pride the most significant thing we've learned is that the information people the folks in Albany are getting about i’ll let Vinny speak to this because he knows this stuff and we had a great call Friday, but the information that our legislators are getting up in Albany is not the information and, and then right being shared with us that on the ground as far as numbers and infections and release we had unfortunately two people passed right in the last couple of weeks like that's been like a major thing for us. I'll let Vinnie talk about the numbers because he can just speak to them with much more Authority. But what we've done is activated our phone to action stuff. So people are online find your legislator, tweet your legislator. Call your legislators. We've had our staff policy folks calling through legislators calling through city folks and trying to figure out and talk to them directly and their teams that around what we should expect for the back into session. What what kind of things we can be doing an action we could be taken to like get their attention and then lastly probably the most concrete thing that we've done or found out and this was in a staff meeting this morning is not only our, I have over 30 people and I'm sure much Then sit back for technical violations people being held there on like BS technical violations. But also now we've got the issue of the police NYPD making a rest under the stay-at-home orders for people who were kind of out and like now we're looking at this other so we went from like you couldn't do misdemeanor stuff. You couldn't like hoping for misdemeanor stuff. So almost like a Resurgence of some of the ugly policies we've We saw going to wait with like stop-and-frisk back handedly.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Lorenzo Jones co-executive director of The Guitar Center for Health Equity and Justice and a good friend and a friend of the show was good to see him on this webinar. This webinar was hosted by the fortune Society. You're listening to Century of lies. I'm your host Doug McVeigh. Let's keep going. Shall we next up Vincent schiraldi senior research scientist at the Columbia Justice lab,

VINCENT SCHIRALDI: you would think thank you for having me and I want to start by everything I have to say to Michael Tyson and Raymond Rivera, first two people that died coming out of Riker's Island or in Rikers Island. Both of them were locked up for technical parole violations, and I want to be real careful about not sort of segmenting populations. Nobody deserves to die in Rikers Island. Nobody deserves to be in the conditions. The people in there are or the people who are incarcerated. They are two people that are working there. It's it's truly truly awful. It's you know, we had Rachel Cohen, a doctor from Rikers Island speak on our staff meeting last week and it was it was just crushing to hear what she was talking about and how how wide spread the infection is how impossible it is to socially distance how impossible it is to be clean, how challenging it is to test enough people in this is even as the dr. Cohen said when people are trying hard to do the right thing, so I want to say that because I know we're focused on technical violations and everything's got to have its own focus, but nobody- violent offenders on violent offenders so-called. Nobody deserves to be an unconstitutional horrible disease infested conditions where they're forced to be proximate to other people that said New York is particularly bad on people who are lots of for technical parole. It was the second worst in the country behind only Illinois and I just depends on how you count because there are 2,000 people that get locked up in New York every year who volunteer to go back to prison to treatment because if they didn't volunteer they be held for technical parole violation and most likely violated and given more time. So if you added those two thousand we'd be number one in terms of locking people up for technical violations, which cost over 600 million dollars a year. The money we could use right now to treat people right now to the house people right now to help people get jobs and help them turn their lives around but we are in the way locking them up in dangerous facilities in New York City and around the state. So that's what's happening with that assemblymember Mosley and Senator Brian Benjamin have courageously authored. The less is more Act. It would dramatically reduce the number of people who are locked up for technical violations. It would give people recognizance hearings a fascinating thing that Corey Stoughton and could maybe talk a little about was how the state in defending itself against their lawsuit attached. The less is more act and said we don't need the remedies being asked for by legal aid recognizance hearings for people who are facing time because the less is more has been proposed by assemblymember Mosley, even though it hasn't been passed even though the state has an endorsed it even though the state hasn't done it essentially administratively because most of what we're saying in less is more the parole board and parole division could do right now they could stop that clearly violating people 41 additional people have been sent to Rikers Island since the governor announced that he was releasing people on technical violations on March 27th. That's just in New York City that doesn't include the rest of the state. So it's terrible for people to be in for any reason if my husband or wife or daughter or son or locked up there, I'd be freaking out right now it especially outrageous when they're in not even accused of a new crime, but that's what a technical violation is. You're not even accused. So I get it that we have to struggle over who to release right? I get it that there's another side to this discussion. That people are afraid of letting dangerous people out, I get that can't we categorically start by saying nobody comes into this place for a technical violation and everybody's who is in on it goes home and last point the governor's order to release people. First of all only half as many people have been released from Rikers as the governor said he would release and second of all it doesn't touch the remaining four thousand people in state prisons for technicals, you know, the the doctor at Rikers, dr. McDonald said that a storm is coming and it's storm is indeed coming. It's actually hit Rikers and it's going to hit all the state prisons and some of its already hit but you know, when is it when there's a hurricane coming to your house? You don't wait till it's a hundred mile an hour winds to take out the plywood and hammer and nails and start boarding up the windows you board up the windows when it's coming and what we're not doing is that, that we need to get as many people out of state prison and that includes elderly people, that includes not just technical violators, includes people who are just short of finishing your sentences, get them out of here so that when the storm hits not if the storm hits when the storm hits there's enough people to go around is enough space to go around you have more- better staff to to incarcerated person ratio. You have more Health Care Providers are able to provide Healthcare in the upstate hospitals that people going to have to be to if they get really sick. All this stuff is knowable. We know it now and if it hits it should not be considered a surprise when it starts to I'm in Lake Placid right now. There's four prisons I can spit to from where I'm sitting and there is not one hospital that I can spit to if those people start getting sick and they need to rush to rush the hospital staff and incarcerated people where are they to go, where they going to go. We need to reduce those populations now, otherwise it is going to be an absolute blood bath.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Vinny schiraldi's a senior research scientist at the Columbia University Justice lab. I'm co-author with Vinny and another friend Jason zeidan Berg of an article that was done many years ago on drug courts and treatment alternatives to incarceration is back when Vinny was at the Justice policy Institute. Great man, Great thinker now, let's keep going shall we Tahanee Dunn is a prisoner rights attorney with the Bronx Defenders prisoners Project.

TAHANEE DUNN: your so I just want to say thank you for having me. I also want to send my condolences to mr. Tyson. And mr. Rivera's family. It's very sad that their fate, you know was what it was considering the fact that they could have been released if the governor had acted quicker. So, you know Bronx Defenders as well as legal aid. We have been filing a number of different types of mass writs as well as individual writs We have had some success but you know, not not as obviously not as much as we would hope the the the standard is is a little bit hard to to sort of meet as Corey mentioned the high standard you have to show indifference on the on the part of DOC to the health and safety of people who are incarcerated and you know, one of the things that we're seeing is just is there a very resistant to to release people because they're sort of logic is that if they were to find that standard for one person or a few people they would essentially be fighting that standard for everybody in there and they're just not going to release everybody who is on technical parole violations or you know or city time or pretrial whether they're medically vulnerable or what have you. So we you know, we're seeing a lot of pushback in that in that way and we're also- Also, seeing judges, you know, really attribute a lot of credibility to the affidavits that are coming from DOC and the DOC lawyers and the letter from the first attorney's office, which essentially is saying don't worry about it. We're doing everything that we can, we have this under control and that's just literally not true. So, I mean my day 7 days a week pretty much every single day since I would say probably the beginning of March, has been spent speaking to my incarcerated clients initially in person when we were still doing visits on the island and also at MDC and now, you know on the phone and video conferencing and you know, listening to them cry listening to them, you know, ask what else can be done so that they don't die in prison, you know, and some of the people are in on parole holds a technical parole violations, you know, but there's confusion there's mass confusion in jails. They don't know what's going on. They don't know why they can't be seen when they're when they're calling for sick call. They don't understand what they don't have masks despite the fact that you know, the governor, I'm sorry, the mayor had mandated that everybody in DOC be given PPE. They don't understand you know why they're being housed with sick people. They you know, there's just there's no information sharing and that's not just with the people who are incarcerated, thats it right like that's also with the COs the correctional officers also don't know what's going on. And so inevitably there's a lot of mistakes and poor judgment being exhibited and unsafe practices and practices that are just sort of coming to be out of fear of everybody on the island. You know, one of the things that has been a challenge for our legal department who have been following the writs is is just collecting data like everything that is going on right now. Now is so fluid and for almost two weeks we didn't have access to our clients through videoconferencing. And so once that sort of came up and running then we were able to check in with people but there was a backlog in terms of you know, getting to speak to people but you know, the CHS has been phenomenal in terms of making sure that we did get information on are medically vulnerable clients for purposes of individual and mass writs, but generally speaking, it's just been really really hard to communicate with people and just not knowing what to say to people, you know, when they're when the you know, they've received an CD or they've you know taken a technical violation for a criminal case that resolves but they're still sitting there in a pearl hold and they have asthma or you know, they have respiratory issues, but somehow some way that's not enough for them to be released, you know, so it's just it's confusion. It's trauma and it's sadness and it's Hopelessness, the conditions in Rikers are deplorable even prior to covid-19. You know, we've heard about people not having running water. They certainly can't have sanitizer because it's considered contraband, you know, there are people who are in quarantine dorms who, they're with the people who are visibly visibly symptomatic and their beds are spaced 1 to 2 feet apart, you know people getting coughed on they're to you know people who are in solitary confinement. I do a lot of work people in solitary confinement. They are saying that the slots that they receive their food in their mail through our never wiped down and the people who are serving them their food are coming from other quarantined units, meaning that they've been exposed to somebody who had covid-19 and they're not using gloves. And so we've seen people, you know in solitary confinement who you would think wouldn't have much contact with anybody to get it who are actually being diagnosed. Or being you know tested positive for for covid same thing with phones, you know, we have to be very careful about asking our clients to call us a video conference with us because every time they are moved somewhere else they're exposed and there's not alcohol swabs to wipe things down, the you know, the the video booths and the phones are not being disinfected and the encourage people were in there don't have access to that stuff to do it themselves. So it's very it's a very scary confusing, hopeless I think time and for people who are in there, and they just their literal their concern is just not dying.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Tahani Dunn, a prisoner rights attorney with the Bronx Defenders prisoners rights project talking about Rikers Island and the covid-19 pandemic on a web seminar hosted by the fortune Society. You can find a lot of great information at the fortune Society website, which is simply FortuneSociety.org-- definitely worth checking out now. Let's hear from Corey Stoughton; and Corey is Attorney in charge of special Litigation at The Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn New York

COREY STOUGHTON: all in all we filed a series of writs for hundreds of people in Rikers Island and all in all have gotten including. Mr. Brown. Yeah. It's nice to meet you in person is to Brown and gotten actually a hundred and seventy two people or at least in total across all those wrists. We haven't won all of them. So judges are denying some of its these hundreds of people are all people who are medically vulnerable in some way according to the CDC criteria, so they could have asthma they could have other conditions they are they could be of an age where their age makes them particularly vulnerable to bad outcomes from getting covid. So and we actually were following the lead of the board of Corrections on this when you know, the very very early stages. The board of Corrections came out and said you need to release all these people who are over 50 and have or have kind of other conditions that make them vulnerable and that, you know, the system wasn't really moving. So we started filing writs of habeas corpus arguing that the constitution actually the constitutional right to be free from punishment and to have your you know to be free from what they call deliberate indifference to you a serious medical need requires release, which is really like from a lawyer perspective and extraordinary argument because I think people probably know that in prisons and jails you file constitutional claims like this if someone is very ill in prison and the prison is failing to treat them all together, but usually what you get out of that is treatment. You know, so there's lots of cases work persons, you know won't treat someone with say Hepatitis C. So you should be getting hepatitis C medication. This was a really kind of a step farther and asking judges to release people from jail because of the medical risk, and, and what we've seen is that some judges are willing to do that because they know it is necessary and extraordinary circumstance, but we still see them in each others arms, and that's really unfortunate. So so that's been one of that's one of our strategies. We've you know more broadly legal aid provides representation to the vast majority of people accused of parole violations and one of the things that we saw that made this problem worse for the parole community is that after covid hit the parole system really ground to a halt and that's because the hearing process was, you know, I mean for those of you who have been involved in representation or in the system, you know that the hearings take place on Rikers Island in these tiny little rooms. I mean social distancing is just like not possible and they're not the cleanest place. So because they couldn't they didn't they didn't move quickly at all to try to make a system work to kind of keep cases moving forward. What happened was the system just just collapsed for about two weeks and like nothing happened and also during that period a lot of people came into the system into the parole system because docks didn't stop violating people, even though we people called on them to like stop. It's like especially technical violation. Stop feeding the system where we know that Rikers is going to be a very dangerous place, a place where people there and actually our broader Community Doc's didn't stop so we had people coming into the system but there was no system and to this day there are many hundreds of people who are in Rikers now technical violations who don't even have a lawyer because they're kind of got lost in the system and it's something we're really remain very worried about because we can't file writs on half the people when we don't know who they are or how to how to get in touch with them and we get calls sometimes from family members or from people calling a hotline and legal aid line, but a lot of a lot of people are in our right now I think are really lost. So we're really worried about that. You know, the governor one of the things that happened was after we won our first writ for a hundred and six people in on technical parole violations about five hours later the governor announced that he was going to review people in jails on technical violations, and that that has now happened and the governor says he's released about 700 people Statewide including about 264 at Rikers other were little we think is math might be a little sketchy. But anyway Stumpy it's really quite a number of people but he they denied the vast majority of releases even people who are just in on technical violations and they did it the criteria. They applied were really restricted you had to you know, for one thing just off the top they weren't even considering anybody with an M with a condemn designation. So anybody with a diagnosed mental health issue which you know, I think is extraordinary because just because you have a mental health issue. I don't know why that means you should spend your time in Rikers. I just dont think that makes any sense, they didn't realize people who unless they could demonstrate how housing which is like a really high Bar for a lot of people to meet and they weren't really they haven't you know, anyway, they weren't, you know, you had to you had to come up with that on your own and then they also applied, you know, a public safety analysis that you know, I think probably just got that calculation wrong in a lot of cases and we had some clients that we knew that records of when we were baffled really the governor wasn't was kind of resisting releasing them. So we tried to kind of pressure that system to move faster and we keep trying to pressure it every way we can we filed some other writs on behalf of people who were sentenced, you know, parole people involved in the process and were sentenced to treatment who they got stuck at Rikers went DOCs st transferring people and we actually won the release that was another I think 50 some people that we one actually might have been I've got my numbers all mixed up, but maybe it was 38 people. But anyway, Dozens of people who were stuck at Rikers you should have gone to Edgecombe for treatment programs and we got them released.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Corey Stoughton and Attorney in charge of special litigation at The Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn, New York being in a web seminar hosted by the Fortune Society on the topic of Riker's Island and covid-19. And that's it. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies we’re a production of the drug truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio network on the web @ Drugtruth.Net I've been your host Doug McVay editor of DrugWarfacts.org for now for the drug truth Network. This is Doug McVay saying so long so long for the drug truth Network.

This is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition. The Century of Lies Drug Truth Network programs are kept at the James A Baker III Institute for public policy.