While jails and prisons across the country have seen a rise in COVID-19 in their facilities, the Suffolk County Correctional Facilities in Riverhead and Yaphank have seen significantly lower cases. Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon (D) credits early usage of face covering, frequent sanitation and social distancing practices.
To date, only one inmate has contracted COVID-19 while at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility and one inmate entered the jail already carrying the virus. The average daily inmate population is 515. Less than 2 percent, or 21 correctional staff out of 858 has come down with coronavirus.
The sheriff also reported four deputies out of 252 contracted the virus and only one civilian employee of 130 was confirmed with COVID-19. They only have nine coronavirus cases of officers. Currently, the facilities have no COVID-19 positives.
Toulon said that since everyone is required to wear face coverings and that social distancing is enforced throughout the facilities, coronavirus hasn’t spread inside the two jails like it has elsewhere. He added it “should serve as an example” for the general public that COVID-19 can be controlled by following the advice of public health officials.
“I think if more people knew how we have controlled the spread of COVID-19 inside the jails by wearing face coverings and maintaining physical distance from others, that people would understand that they do have some control if they take personal responsibility,” he said. “The mixed messages have put too many people in danger, led to further spread of the virus, and it has caused immeasurable damage to the economy.”
In April, a state court denied the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County’s request to free around 120 inmates over coronavirus fears. The State Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen claimed the decision was, in part, because of the jail’s success in halting the spread of the virus. The legal aid society was, however, successful in securing release of many other inmates held on noncriminal parole violations.
The numbers are significant, especially compared to other jails in New York. The New York Times reported May 20 that 1,259 of New York City’s 9,680 correction officers and their supervisors have caught the virus, while at least six have died. To note, however, there are thousands more inmates in city jails compared to Suffolk County’s facilities.