NYUJ Testing Update: COVID-19 Cases Continue to Surge in DOCCS Facilities; Coalition Calls for Improved Testing in Prisons and Efforts to Safely Reduce Prison Population

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 15, 2020
Contact: Jason Kaplan | kaplan@Skdknick.com | 

NYUJ Testing Update: COVID-19 Cases Continue to Surge in DOCCS Facilities; Coalition Calls for Improved Testing in Prisons and Efforts to Safely Reduce Prison Population 

NYUJ Calls for More Transparency in DOCCS’ Data Reports 

NEW YORK, NY In correctional facilities across New York State, COVID-19 numbers continue to grow worse. New Yorkers United for Justice’s (NYUJ) latest weekly analysis of COVID-19 data released by Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) demonstrates a dramatic increase in positivity rates of COVID-19 in New York State prisons.

Between Dec. 4 – 11, the analysis found that 192 individuals tested positive out of an estimated test count of 370; that equals to an estimated COVID-19 positivity rate of 51.9% during that time frame. In comparison, New York State’s overall positivity rate among the general population has stayed below 6% on average during the same time frame. Over 2,000 incarcerated individuals have now tested positive for COVID-19 since March. In addition, 22 correctional facilities now have at least one positive case of COVID-19 as of Dec. 11.

NYUJ executive director Alexander Horwitz said: “For the better part of a year, NYUJ and other advocates have been calling for DOCCS to implement mass testing and re-testing, and to publicly disclose a comprehensive plan to contain COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons and neighboring communities. However, DOCCS has only responded with empty statements and defensive positions, while continuing to put thousands of lives at risk. As COVID-19 numbers reach staggering levels in prisons, DOCCS’ ongoing failure to immediately expand their testing and decarceration efforts is a tragedy waiting to happen.”

Without regular and consistent mass testing in DOCCS facilities, it is not possible to form an accurate and timely understanding of COVID-19’s spread, which could mean that the current reported situation in prisons may be much worse in reality. In addition, DOCCS’ data collection and reporting methodology is unclear and possibly faulty, diverging with testing practices that other states have utilized to report COVID-19 data for incarcerated populations. Last week, NYUJ submitted a letter to Acting DOCCS Commissioner Anthony Annucci to provide more clarity on their data collection and reporting practices.

Since March, DOCCS has failed to answer NYUJ’s repeated calls for mass testing and a publicly disclosed plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities and the statewide criminal justice system.

Methodology & Definition of Terms 

Full analysis of DOCCS’ testing data can be viewed here.  

Analysis from New Yorkers United for Justice (NYUJ) is based on publicly available data reported by the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). Unlike many states, which report total numbers of tests, DOCCS COVID-19 reporting is limited to the status of individuals who received COVID-19 tests.

The chart in the link above, derived from DOCCS’ limited publicly disclosed data, therefore shows an estimated number of new COVID-19 tests based on that data. The estimated number of tests reflects the change in pending tests day-over-day after taking into account net changes in both total positive and total negative tests.

Change in positive cases: The change in reported individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 during date range. Change in negative cases: The change in reported individuals who tested negative for COVID-19 between date range. NOTE: Because DOCCS reports the status of individuals and not tests, a decrease in negatives between Day 1 and Day 2 is reported as 0 since those individuals should be represented by an increase in the total positive. Leaving as negative would cause an under-reporting of total tests. 

Total new test results: The total sum of changes in positive and negative cases.

Estimated new tests: Day 2’s pending test total subtracted by the difference between Day 1’s pending number and the total new test results between Day 1 and Day 2. 

[Pending results in Day 2] – ([Pending results in Day 1] – [New test results between Day 1 and Day 2])

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About New Yorkers United for Justice (NYUJ)
New Yorkers United for Justice is a statewide coalition comprised of local and national non-profit organizations committed to supporting a movement that will bring much-needed criminal justice reform to New York State and ensure that policies promote safety and fairness. NYUJ aims for legislative urgency to fix a broken criminal justice system that punishes the poor and communities of color, tears families apart, and makes New Yorkers less safe. NYUJ believes that a system that ensures equal access to justice for anyone accused in New York State, regardless of age, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or religion, must be the standard.