NYC Jail (Rikers) COVID-19 Infection Rate Compared to NYC and NYS

Posted on May 3, 2020


In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health faces a crisis unlike any. The first case of coronavirus at Rikers Island jail complex was reported on March 18, 2020 and in less than a month the infection rate increased to more than threefold by April 10, 2020. For weeks criminal justice reform advocates, lawyers, and families of the incarcerated have been putting pressure on state and local officials to release the vulnerable population from jails. The rapid infection rate is causing grave threats to the health conditions of incarcerated people, staff and the public community at large. 

Social distancing in jail is nearly impossible. There is a shortage of protective gear, cleaning supplies are limited, and healthcare is poor and difficult to access. Not only are jails a revolving-door where people are always moving in and out, but they are dangerously overcrowded. They are short-term facilities for individuals who have been charged with a crime,  mostly for misdemeanor, but not convicted. Many of the incarcerated can’t afford bail and are waiting for a trial. Due to city lockdowns trials are postponed and the incarcerated are now living in the largest hot spot in the nation for coronavirus infections. 

The data observed in this analysis is collected by The Legal Aid Society comparing COVID-19 infection rate in NYC Jail (Rikers) to NYC and NYS. New York became the epicenter of COVID-19 infections throughout the nation. According to The Legal Aid Society “This is not the cumulative number of cases of people who have contracted COVID-19 while detained in NYC jails. NYC BOC is releasing the daily number of people currently incarcerated in DOC custody who have tested positive for COVID-19, which does not include those who contracted COVID-19 in DOC custody who have been released, transferred, or died while in custody.” 

The analysis compared individuals infected by COVID-19 to 1000 people within the first 5 weeks of the outbreak. As of April 23, 2020 Rikers Island jail complex had 373 infections, the majority being the incarcerated. New York City had 141,754 infections and New York State had 263,460 infections. Although NYC and NYS had a larger number of infections, when compared to the infection rate to 1000 people NYC Rikers infection rate surpasses by threefold. As of March 18, 2020 the rate of infections to 1000 people was as follows: NYS 2.01, NYC 3.13 and Rikers Jail 21.20. On April 23, 2020 the rate of infections to 1000 was as follows: NYS 13.55, NYC 17.34 and Rikers Jail 96.78. A Shiny App was created to include the visualization of these numbers through a tracking graph and table here:  

The rapid increase of infections at Rikers Jail compared to NYC and NYS is not surprising. Jails are overcrowded and the incarcerated don’t have the privilege to social distance or wear protective masks. The incarcerated are already held in jails and prisons in inhumane conditions and they are in dire need for help to fight COVID-19. Immediate action needs to be taken to release as many people as possible. Not only do the incarcerated deserve protection, but the decrease of jail and prison population will be the key to flattening the curve on coronavirus. 

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