- Rich Klein
EXCLUSIVE: New COVID-19 Cases In County Jail Follow County Courthouse Employee Who Tested Positive
Updated: Jan 7, 2022
(THIS IS A DEVELOPING STORY)
A COVID-19 infection hit the Sullivan County Jail this week after an inmate who had tested positive for coronavirus was reportedly placed back with a group of about 30 men in one pod, according to the relative of an inmate who did not want to be identified.
It's unknown at press time if any other inmates in that pod have tested positive but prison officials this week have started to test them for COVID, the source said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the source told The SullivanTimes that five additional inmates have now tested positive for COVID-19 and were removed from the pod to a solitary confinement location in the facility. As of 3:45 pm today, they had not been examined but were given Tylenol. This information could not be independently confirmed at press time.
The inmate who tested positive had not left the jail in recent weeks so the relative believes that the infection came from the outside. The relative suggested the possibility that a correction officer had tested positive but still came to work.
The relative told The SullivanTimes that those incarcerated for drug possession have temporarily been cut off from their drug treatment as a result of the COVID situation.
Meanwhile, the State's Office of Court Administration reported on November 22 that an employee at the Sullivan County Courthouse has tested positive for COVID and was last in the building on November 16. It's unknown at press time if there is a connection between the COVID case at the courthouse and the case inside the jail - or if the County Health Department is looking for a potential link. Thus far, there has been no public announcement by County health officials regarding the case at the courthouse or the jail.
The years-long multimillion dollar construction of the new jail on Old Route 17 was hailed by county officials as a modern facility where prisoners could more easily be spread out than in the dilapidated, densely-populated facility on Bushnell Avenue that was more than a century old.
A few weeks before the old facility closed, in May 2020, there was a significant outbreak of COVID cases that led to some inmates seeking to be released due to the risk to their health.
Four of those inmates were part of one case being handled pro bono by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and that was before State Supreme Court Justice Stephan Schick. In the case filed on May 29, 2020, attorneys for NYCLU argued that the four were "medically vulnerable" in the face of COVID.
District Attorney Meagan Galligan opposed the release of the four inmates. Assistant District Attorney Lisa Bondarenka signed the brief explaining the DA's position on June 3.
On June 4, Schick paused a hearing in the case to make a 30-minute visit to the jail to assess conditions. County Attorney Michael McGuire had argued that the case would be moot since the transfer to the new jail was imminent. (Schick ultimately ruled against their release).
Sixty eight inmates were, in fact, transferred to the new facility on June 5, 2020.
But in a separate habeas corpus case, three days later - on June 8, 2020 - Schick signed an order that released inmate Christopher Vanlow from the new jail since Vanlow had tested positive for COVID at the Bushnell facility.
In May 2020, two inmates spoke exclusively with The SullivanTimes regarding a COVID outbreak at the Bushnell facility that resulted in 17 of 20 inmates in the former G block testing positive.
The construction of the new jail, planned for decades, had continual cost overruns and taxpayers are still on the hook for the massive debt, according to the latest County budget documents. In 2022, that bill will be $2.1 million and the debt increases every year until 2046, when residents will pay $4.17 million in that year alone.
While still Sullivan County District Attorney, County Court Judge Jim Farrell called the new jail a "world class facility."