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Nassau jail activists call for more transparency about Covid-19 cases

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Activists for the rights of inmates at the Nassau County Correctional Center are calling on Sheriff James Dzurenda to provide daily updates on the number of Covid-19 cases in the jail and to release inmates with a high risk of contracting the virus.

On April 24, activists first protested outside the jail in East Meadow for the same cause. Some held signs along the sidewalk and others honked from cars and drove passed the jail’s East Meadow Avenue entrance.

Then, on May 20, the same group stood outside the county legislative building in Mineola and live streamed a rally calling for additional measures to be taken at the jail to protect inmates, correction officers and the community at large.

Among the group were representatives of the Long Island Social Justice Action Network, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York Communities for Change and the Long Island chapter of New Hour for Women and Children.

The activists said that the county never provided a space for members of the press or families of the incarcerated to ask questions about the jail in public. They are urging Nassau County Executive Laura Curran to add statistics about jail Covid-19 cases in her daily briefings about the virus and that such information also be posted on the sheriff’s website.

“They’re not just numbers, they’re our family members and our loved ones and they’re just as important as the people on the outside,” said Jayette Lansbury, a member of the Nassau County Jail Advocates and chair of criminal justice of the New York chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness.

Lansbury also criticized the use of “keep-lock,” or holding inmates in their cells for almost 24 hours a day to ensure social distancing and said that it “exacerbates already high levels of anxiety and depression.”

In late March, Sheriff James Dzurenda posted a letter on the jail’s website detailing the steps it was taking to prevent the spread of the virus. Every new inmate is tested for the virus during initial processing and, if cleared, held for an additional 14 days in a New Admission Housing Unit. Inmates with Covid-19 symptoms are moved to a quarantine unit, where they are medically monitored, have their temperatures taken and meet with mental health staff members.

Inmates in regular housing are still offered outdoor recreation in small groups. They are also given facemasks and free phone time to contact loved ones and support networks.

Requests for comment from the sheriff following the May 20 rally were not answered as of press time on Tuesday.

Dzurenda told Newsday on Thursday that fifty-seven inmates have tested positive for Covid-19 since March. Forty-seven have recovered, eight have been discharged and two remain incarcerated, the Newsday article read. The jail’s population, which changes on a daily basis, was 612 on Thursday.

Serena Liguori, the executive director of New Hour, said that she and her fellow advocates “applaud meaningful steps taken by Nassau Sheriff Dzurenda to increase PPE provisions in the jail.” However, she said that they “urge transparency about the jail conditions for those who prove to be symptomatic.”