NY jail and prison staff not complying with COVID mandates face suspension

New York City Department of Correction workers who did not receive at least one COVID vaccine dose by 5 p.m. on Tuesday are at risk of being put on leave without pay. As of Monday night, that was 23% of city jail staff.

Darlene McDay, a prison reform advocate and nurse practitioner, emphasized the need for this type of staff to be vaccinated.

"People that are in [jail], they're stuck there," McDay said. "It's definitely very important that [staff] actually get vaccinated to protect their families but also to protect the incarcerated people that are essentially at their mercy."

Meanwhile, staff members at New York state's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision are also facing disciplinary action for failing to comply with the state's vaccine and testing mandate.

Starting on Oct. 12, staff within state correctional facilities had to either show proof of vaccination or submit weekly COVID tests through a secure submission portal. Unlike the city's jail system, unvaccinated staff within the state's prison system have had the option to submit weekly COVID tests.

However, according to exclusive data obtained by FOX 5 NY from the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, 30% of unvaccinated staff at state facilities are also not submitting weekly COVID tests.

In a statement, the state said that starting on Tuesday, "All employees not in compliance with the state-wide directive will be subject to a Notice of Discipline… and subject to disciplinary suspension."

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Tim Ruffinen, a spokesman for NYSCOPBA, the union that represents correctional officers, said acquiring testing kits has been a challenge and at times confusing for officers who are not vaccinated. 

"They have to do everything on their own time — you have to order the kits, you have to find a FedEx facility to drop off the kits," Ruffinen, of Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP, said. "I could see how this would be really confusing for someone who doesn't have a lot of free time on their hands anyways."

COBA, the union that represents correctional officers in New York City, is threatening legal action against the city over the vaccine mandate, which does not allow city officers a test-out option.

"We firmly believe that the staffing crisis created by Mayor de Blasio's failure to hire more officers for three years makes it impossible for the DOC to put officers on leave without threatening the lives of our officers and the inmates in our custody," COBA President Benny Boscio Jr. said in a statement. "For these reasons, we are preparing vigorous legal action, which we will discuss in more detail in the coming days."

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order giving the city's jails the ability to put correctional officers on 12-hour shifts in case there is a shortage of staff now that the vaccine mandate has gone into effect.

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