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01.14.2021

Relman Colfax and The Legal Aid Society of New York Prisoners’ Rights Project have filed a lawsuit against, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York Department of Correctional Services (“DOCCS”) and other state officials, challenging their practice of warehousing older prisoners with underlying medical conditions in an upstate prison without instituting procedures that would protect these vulnerable people from COVID-19. The Firm represents a class of men living at Adirondack prison and the organization Release Aging People in Prison Campaign.  

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, alleges that the state and its prison officials violate the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act by transferring its most vulnerable people to the Adirondack Correctional Facility (“Adirondack”)—essentially creating a prison nursing home—without preparing that remote prison and its procedures for the task. The suit asks for an injunction requiring New York to follow basic COVID-19 protections at Adirondack, such as performing regular testing and standard quarantining of those who have tested positive, permitting people to eat and do other basic activities with proper social distancing, and providing adequate soap and functioning masks. It also seeks to stop transfers to Adirondack until such procedures are in place.

“New York state officials have known for nearly a year of the risks COVID-19 poses to people in prison, particularly elderly people with underlying health conditions. Transferring this vulnerable group in the face of these risks to a remote facility far from medical resources with no precautions flouts all reason and reflects a complete disregard for the safety of people they have a responsibility to protect,” said Rebecca Livengood, counsel at Relman Colfax and lead counsel on the case.

“Not only have Governor Cuomo and DOCCS failed to release enough people to facilitate social distancing in their prisons, but they have also failed to implement the most basic protections to mitigate the spread of the pathogen. Nowhere are these failures clearer than at Adirondack - a prison nursing home and a ticking time bomb. If the State fails to drastically improve conditions at Adirondack, more New Yorkers who are incarcerated there will contract the virus and potentially succumb to it. So will staff and members of the surrounding community,” said Stefen R. Short, Supervising Attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society.

In addition to Rebecca Livengood, the Relman Colfax case team includes Jia Cobb, Sasha Samberg-Champion, and Gabriel Diaz, with paralegal assistance from Amalia Perez, Reed Canaan, and Callan Showers. Relman Colfax is co-counseling with the Legal Aid Society of New York.

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