New York City’s troubled jail system faces more turmoil. The suspension of hundreds of corrections officers who failed to meet the Tuesday night deadline for getting vaccinated against COVID-19 has resulted in their suspension.
According to the city’s Department of Correction, 77% of uniformed employees had received at least one dose of vaccines as of Monday at 5 p.m.
Vincent Schiraldi, Corrections Department Commissioner, stated Wednesday morning that 700 prisoners who have applied for religious and medical exemptions can continue working while their cases are being reviewed.
Officials at City Hall stated Wednesday afternoon that 570 workers could be placed on unpaid leave for not complying with the mandate. However, they wouldn’t know the exact number until corrections officers turn up for shifts and don’t show proof of vaccination.
Due to staff shortages, the deadline for jail employees to get vaccinated was delayed by a month.
Officials announced that workers who didn’t apply for an exemption or failed to produce proof of vaccination by Tuesday at 5 p.m. were placed on unpaid leave. They will also be required to surrender any city-issued firearms or protective gear.
Mayor Bill de Blasio imposed similar mandates to other city workers and said that he expected the vaccination rate will rise as workers start missing their paychecks or their requests are denied.
“I expect those numbers to up in a very substantial way in the days ahead,” de Blasio told reporters at a virtual news conference Wednesday.
De Blasio issued Monday’s emergency executive order in anticipation of the mandate. It authorized a shift to 12-hour shifts and an 8-hour tour to increase jail staffing.
The president of the union representing jail guards resisted the move, calling it “reckless” and “misguided”. The union also said that it would sue to stop the mandate. This tactic was used by a police union in late Oct as the vaccination requirement for its officers drew near. The mandate was approved as planned by the police union.
Benny Boscio Jr., the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said staffing in the city’s jails is as bad or worse than it was in October, when de Blasio announced jail workers would have extra time to meet the vaccine mandate.
Boscio stated that less than 100 of the promised 600 guards were hired and none have begun working in jails. Boscio stated that retirements and resignations have increased and that guard continue to work around the clock, with no breaks or meals.
The union chief warned that suspending jail workers because of the mandate to use vaccines could prove fatal.
“To move forward with placing what little staff we do have on leave tomorrow would be like pouring gasoline on a fire, which will have a catastrophic impact on the safety of our officers and the thousands of inmates in our custody,” Boscio said Tuesday.
The city’s jails are facing increasing problems, including the notorious Rikers Island complex. After years of neglect, the jails have become a mess. This year, at least 14 of them died from self-harm, violence, and other causes.
The troubles have led to growing calls to overhaul or immediately close Rikers Island, which the city has said will be shuttered by 2027. The city on Tuesday announced it had awarded contracts for work on new jails in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.
Members of the House Oversight Committee including New York Reps. Carolyn Maloney & Alexandria Ocasio Cortez sent letters last week to New York City District Attorneys expressing their “grave concern” about excessive bail amounts putting too many people behind bars.
At the same time, staffing levels have dropped sharply during the pandemic. Uniformed personnel fell from a staff of 10,862 in 2017 to 8,388 in 2021. At one point in the summer, one-third of guards were out sick or medically unfit to work with inmates and an untold number of guards went AWOL, the city said.
As scientists race to discover more about the omicron variant that was discovered last week in South Africa, the vaccine mandate for prison workers is being implemented. Although no cases have been reported in the United States, de Blasio stated that he believes there will be.
Monday’s announcement by De Blasio included an additional mandate for child care workers. He reiterated his commitment to the mandates that he’s revealed for nearly the entire city’s municipal workforce in recent months.
According to the Department of Correction, it organized town halls and called employees to give them literature encouraging them to get vaccinated. The Department of Correction also offered a $500 bonus and parked a truck with a pro-vaccine message at Rikers Island. It also recruited Dr. Anthony Fauci and Mookie Wilson, a former New York Mets player, to record messages encouraging employees to get the shots.
The campaign is moving the needle. Monday’s 77% vaccine total for jail workers has increased from 72% one week ago and 46% in October when the mandate was first announced. However, 86% of all city agencies have at least one worker who has received at least one dose of vaccines. Most agencies reported rates of vaccinations above 90% on Monday.