Coronavirus: New York records first female prisoner to die from Covid-19

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Governor Andrew Cuomo's office announced more prison releases on Thursday as news of first female Covid-19 death in state's prisons broke

World | The Independent

A 61-year-old woman has become the first female prisoner in New York state to have died after contracting Covid-19, as Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to begin releasing pregnant inmates.

Darlene “Lucy” Benson-Seay, who had been held at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, New York, died on Tuesday, according to official records.

She becomes the woman to die from Covid-19 virus in a New York state prison, just days after a 30-year-old woman in Texas became the first female federal prisoner to die in the United States from coronavirus.

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In a statement on Thursday, governor Cuomo’s secretary, Melissa DeRosa, confirmed that pregnant women with less than six months remaining on their sentences for non-violent offences will be released from New York prisons.

The governor’s office has now directed the New York State Department of Corrections to begin the releases, after weeks of criticism from campaigners to protect women and pregnant prisoners from contracting Covid-19.

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‎"Earlier today, we directed DOCCS (New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision) to begin the release of pregnant non-violent offenders with six months or less remaining on their sentence,” said DeRosa on Thursday.

She continued: “We will continue to monitor the Covid situation as it impacts every aspect of our state, including prisons, and make adjustments as appropriate”.

Advocacy groups on Thursday criticised governor Cuomo’s decision to not allow more women to be released from the state’s prison system earlier in the crisis.

“The governor's refusal to grant any clemencies led to the first COVID death of an incinerated woman in New York State prisons,” said prisoner rights groups in a statement, which included the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, Parole Preparation Project, #HALTsolitary Campaign, VOCAL-NY, Worth Rises, and Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club.

“Darlene “Lulu” Benson-Seay was effectively sentenced to death because the Governor didn’t care enough about her to protect her from this virus by realising her,” read the statement.

The announcement comes days after the death of Andrea Circle-Bear, who was the first female federal prisoner to die after contracting the coronavirus weeks after she had given birth whilst on a ventilator in Texas.

The death called into question why pregnant women were still imprisoned across the US whilst the virus circulated within prisons.

“Her death is a national disgrace, and I hope it is a wake-up call,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, in a statement to the New York Times this week.

New York state authorities permitted the release of non-violent inmates last month who were older than 55 or within 90 days on their release date, amid previous concerns around the spread of Covid-19 with the prison system.

Officials said that the protocol would remove inmates from the prison system who were most at risk from contracting the Covid-19 disease.

At the time, prison advocacy groups in New York warned that the previous measures on early release did not protect other vulnerable inmates - such as pregnant women.

“Excluding thousands of people who are most at risk of dying and least likely to come back to prison will not promote public health or safety,” read the statement released last month by the same advocacy groups that commented on the death of Benson-Seay.

Whilst accepting that the latest decision to release non-violent women from New York prisons was welcome, the advocacy groups urged governor Cuomo to protect everyone inside the prison system.

They added: “Women convicted of violent crimes and pregnant people should not be sentenced to death”.

  • Coronavirus: New York records first female prisoner to die from Covid-19 photo

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