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.
"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.
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