Convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein is the latest high-profile figure to test positive for coronavirus, the New York state corrections officers union told Reuters on Sunday.
Following his March 11 hearing, where he was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape, the former movie mogul had been held at New York City’s Rikers Island jail before being transferred to Wende Correctional Facility, a state prison. According to Michael Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, Weinstein has been placed in isolation following his diagnosis, and added that three state corrections officers also tested positive after coming into contact with infected individuals.
Criminal justice advocates in New York and across the country have been urging elected officials to take emergency actions aimed at protecting the incarcerated, including the immediate release of particularly vulnerable inmates and those with little time remaining on their sentences.
"Fewer people in the jails will save lives and minimize transmission among people in custody as well as staff," Jacqueline Sherman, the interim chair of the board of Correctional Health Services in New York, wrote in a letter to the city’s criminal justice leaders last week. "Failure to drastically reduce the jail population threatens to overwhelm the City jails’ healthcare system as well its basic operations."
According to the letter, thirty eight people in New York City's jail system have tested positive for COVID-19 thus far, including at the Rikers facility, where Weinstein was being held. An additional 58 people are being monitored for the virus in quarantine units.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus poses a potentially devastating risk to incarcerated populations, many of whom face structural barriers to deploying the mitigation tactics that public health officials most urgently advocate for: social distancing, proper hygienic practice and sanitized living conditions. Last week, the Cuyahoga County Court system in Ohio opted to release more than 200 low-risk, non-violent incarcerated individuals in anticipation of the worsening outbreak, and criminal justice advocates say facilities across the nation will need to follow suit in order to minimize the outbreak’s death toll.
Imran Ansari, one of Weinstein’s lawyers, said that his client’s documented ailments — he was admitted to Bellevue Hospital in New York recently for heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetes, all factors that increase the risk of coronavirus exposure — are all reason to carefully monitor his COVID-19 diagnosis.
“Given Mr. Weinstein’s state of health, we are of course concerned, if this is the case, and we are vigilantly monitoring the situation,” Ansari said.