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Brooklyn Defender Services issues a call to action to help the incarcerated during pandemic

April 27, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens in New York’s jails and prisons, the head of Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) has issued a call to action to advocates and supporters asking them to call Gov. Andrew Cuomo and demand that he grant clemencies.

By Thursday afternoon there have been 844 prison staffers and 239 incarcerated people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and six deaths, according to the NYS Department of Corrections.

“While our physical offices have been closed for over a month now, our staff of over 450 lawyers, social workers, investigators, advocates, administrative staff and others have been resolute in their dedication to our clients as we all navigate these trying and uncertain times,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of BDS.

“Over the past several weeks, BDS has been at the forefront of protecting the health and safety of the people we represent who are detained on Rikers Island and in immigration detention facilities, as we fight for their release from increasingly dangerous conditions.”

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Schreibersdorf then asked supporters to call Gov. Cuomo and ask for clemencies and release for people vulnerable to COVID-19, and said, “As health experts have stressed, only mass release can stop the spread and save lives.”

She also pointed people to the website, which is encouraging the #LetThemGo selfie campaign and describes other ways in which people can pressure the governor into action.

Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, asked people to call Governor Andrew Cuomo to ask that he release certain people locked up in New York’s prison system. Photo: Rob Abruzzese/AP

Schreibersdorf’s call to action came on the same day that advocates and faith leaders held a vigil for Leonard Carter, a 61-year-old who died of COVID-19 within two months of his release date after he was granted parole in January, outside of the Queensboro Correctional Facility.

Speakers at that event called on the governor to release people who are older, medically vulnerable or one year within their release date.

“All human beings are created in the image of God, which means that every human life has infinite dignity and infinite value,” said Rabbi Rachel Timoner of Congregation Beth Elohim. “Everyone who is in prison today, their lives matter, their lives have value, and their lives deserve to be treated with dignity. Leonard Carter had already been granted parole. He was already on his way out. He should have been freed. His loss of life is a desecration of God.”

There are 344 people in a similar situation, where they have been granted parole but are still awaiting release from the prison system. Many of those are not included in the Governor’s plan to release technical parole violators because so many are excluded based on the nature of their crimes, advocates said.

“Governor Cuomo, we must remember that we are talking about people,” said Pastor Isaac Scott of God’s Touch Healing Ministry. “Mr. Carter could have been released right after the parole granted his decision, but instead he received a death sentence. Is this what we want to be known for? As Governor, you must release those who are aging or who have a compromised immune system.”

There are currently 9,500 people age 50 or older in the NYS prison system and 4,788 people who are within one year of conditional release.

“Two weeks ago, we stood outside of Queensboro Correctional Facility and warned Governor Cuomo that people were going to die unless he took action,” said Dave George, associate director of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign. “This week, we learned that our worst fears became a reality. Mr. Leonard’s tragic death is on the Governor’s hands. Many more will die unless the Governor grants wide-ranging clemency now.”

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