Impact of COVID-19 on the justice system in CNY


SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Jails are not immune to COVID-19, but so far it hasn’t hit the Onondaga County or Cayuga County lockups.

Since the coronavirus has spread across Central New York, courtrooms are empty and many jails are only half-full.

Arraignments have been heard through video conferences and inmates are waiting on their delayed trials.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is asking for the release of low-level parolees throughout the state and they are doing that at the Justice Center.

They are letting people go that they believe would be high-risk, should they catch COVID-19.

“Corona is not going to be an excuse for a serious, violent offender who’s a flight risk and who is a danger to this community getting out,” said Bill Fitzpatrick. “That, I promise you.”

Fitzpatrick estimates the Justice Center is now about 30 to 40 percent full. The inmates who are now set free are not believed to be a danger to the public. Those still in jail are people accused of felonies like murder and rape.

“What it’s eventually going to lead to is smarter prosecution, taking more advantage of alternatives to incarceration,” said Fitzpatrick.

A similar story is playing out at the Cayuga County Jail, where they released two parolees and their facility is now only 56 percent full. But, they’re not releasing people who may be at high-risk, since nobody in the jail has tested positive for the virus.

But since the pandemic, they’ve seen a decrease in calls and crime, meaning they’re not taking as many inmates in. When they do, they’re fully screened twice because once they’re in, social distancing is difficult.

“It’s not easy — We do have some parts of the jail where we can spread inmates out somewhat based on where they are, what cells they’re in. But, for the most part, it’s not something we can do because we just don’t have the extra space,” said Sheriff Schenck.

Schenck said one of his patrol deputies has tested positive for the virus and is now in quarantine. They traced the person’s steps and do not believe they came in contact with the public.

He said that, starting Wednesday, all patrol deputies will wear masks when interacting with others.

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For more local news, follow Julia LeBlanc on Twitter @JuliaLeBlancNC9.

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