Coronavirus News: New Jersey inmates dying from COVID-19 at higher rate than others

NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- Dozens of family members in New York and New Jersey have reached out to 7 On Your Side Investigates with concerns about the measures the Department of Corrections in both states have taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among inmates.

"I know my brother is not an angel," said Damon Washington. "But at the end of the day, I want him to be OK. My brother has kids he wants to come home to."

Damon's brother, Leamon Washington, is serving time for robbery in Northern State Prison in New Jersey. He's eligible for parole in September 2021.

As of Tuesday morning, the NJ Department of Corrections had reported 41 inmates at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19 and six had died.

The number of inmates who have tested positive for the virus at Northern State is more than double any other New Jersey facility, according to DOC.

"You know, we made mistakes, but we are still Americans," Leamon said. "A week ago, they finally gave us masks."

Leamon is diabetic and his family worries about his health and his ability to self-isolate during the pandemic.

"It's a catch-22, them being in there," Damon said.

Between both states, at least 455 inmates had tested positive and at least 38 had died, according to the data available from both DOCs as of Tuesday morning.

7 On Your Side Investigates compared the number of individuals testing positive in New York and New Jersey and the number of individuals dying from COVID-19 in both states to the number of inmates dying from the virus.

In the general population, roughly 5-6% of the cases had resulted in deaths, according to state data Tuesday morning.

In New York, inmates had succumbed to the virus at a lower rate. Just about 3% of inmates who had tested positive had died.

However, in New Jersey, the death rate appeared much higher. Roughly 20% of inmates who had tested positive had died.

Damon doesn't want his brother to be next.

"It's like, 'What is going on?'" Damon asked. "We keep getting the runaround from Corrections staff."

Spokespersons for both the New Jersey and New York Departments of Corrections referenced their COVID-19 information sites as points of reference for the measures taken to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Those measures include suspending visits, modifying inmate gatherings, increasing cleaning and sanitation standards, providing inmates masks or face coverings, and isolating inmates who test positive as much as possible.

A spokesperson for New York's DOC added that the agency has successfully responded to other outbreaks before including cases of tuberculosis, AIDS, and Hepatitis C.


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