NYC jails faces another staffing crisis, this time fueled by omicron variant

Nearly 2,200 staff members were out sick late last week

By Larry McShane
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — The COVID-19 crisis across the city’s jails is worsening, with nearly 2,200 staff members out sick Thursday as an outraged union official ripped City Hall and correction officials.

Patrick Gallahue, spokesman for the Department of Correction, described the current toll on workers as “even greater than what we have been dealing with in recent months” amid the arrival of the omicron variant and the latest surge in positive tests.

Many correction officers are putting in additional time on the job, he said, while DOC programming, services and visitation were all curtailed by the ongoing pandemic. The department currently employs a uniformed staff of 7,814.

The city jails system has been reeling from a crisis fueled by staffing shortages for much of 2021. In previous months, the city said correction officers were abusing the sick call system to simply avoid showing up to work. In the first eight months of 2021, a stunning 2,304 correction officers were AWOL each month, compared to an average of 645 officers per month in 2019.

The current number of sick correction officers nearly matches the most dysfunctional days of the summer of hell at Rikers — though jails officials now suspect many staffers are actually under the weather.

Meanwhile, the jail system also faces a second crisis due to coronaviruus infections among inmates, who were only 45% vaccinated as of last week.

According to DOC figures, 87% of uniformed personnel have received at least one vaccination as the health crisis heads toward a third year. But the head of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association said the attention paid to its members was misdirected.

“The mayor and the (DOC) commissioner refused to even test visitors before coming into our jails, and that is now driving the skyrocketing COVID outbreak ... responsible for more than 2,000 officers being out sick,” said COBA president Benny Boscio.

“We are essential workers and this administration has treated us as expendable workers.”

The DOC continued to advocate accelerated processing of criminal cases to limit the time spent by inmates in pre-trial detention and called for a review of people held on technical parole violations to allow their release from jail.

The agency was also encouraging inmates to get vaccinated, offering a $100 commissary credit, a $100 grocery gift card for a person in the community — and even a video message from Dr. Anthony Fauci, author Piper Kerman or ex-New York Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson.

“Our officers are heroically rising to the challenge and we commend them for all they’re doing to keep the facilities operating,” said Gallahue. “We are going everything we can to ensure that facilities are as well staffed as possible.”

©2021 New York Daily News.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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