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Rykers Island Prisoners Getting Paid in Cash and PPE to Dig Mass Graves at Hart Cemetery

Written by Rachel Tucker

When all of us are having our own issues with quarantine and daily life, it is easy to forget that there are places that are truly struggling in the US. For example, prisons are unable to meet the recommendations of the CDC because they do not have the same resources that most people do. Some cells do not have sinks, or soap and running water, and social distancing is nearly impossible when there are rooms with up to 100 prisoners present. It is especially difficult in places where COVID19 is running rampant, like New York. Ryan Grim with The Insider quotes that Rykers Island Prison is “an overcrowded cesspool that has become widely infected with coronavirus”. Fox News reported that the prisoners are starting disturbances and demanding some sort of cleaning items before they all have no other option than to become infected. With that in mind, it is clear that prisoners would be safer if that were outside.

Yesterday, March 31st, Rikers Island gave convicted prisoners the option to get outside – they were offered Personal Protective Equipment and $6 an hour to dig mass graves at Hart Cemetery. Hart Cemetery is on City Island in the Bronx and has been used to bury the dead in bulk in pervious events. In 2008, Rykers’ prisoners were reported burying between 20 and 25 prisoners a week there. However, due to the infection rate of Coronavirus in New York, they are not participating in routine burials and have shifted to mass graves. The cemetery does not have unlimited space and authorities are trying to accommodate the number of people they predict will need to be buried in the coming months. The preparedness plan narrowed it down to roughly 50,000-200,000 people dying total from COVID19, and they know that large numbers are going to be in New York.

Andrew Cuomo has tried to give prisoners more options by allowing them to bottle and label hand sanitizer outside the prison. The Insider states that city and state officials have badly mishandled their response to prison life during this pandemic. Although Rykers Island may be considered an extreme case, it is extremely possible that there are other prisons across the US having similar problems. Prisons may all become epicenters of infection due to their lack of resources and space for social distancing.

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