By Gregg McQueen and Debralee Santos
Overlooking Highbridge Park, the building is an unassuming structure tucked into a quiet, leafy intersection on Edgecombe Avenue.
It once served as the 100-bed Mother Cabrini Memorial Hospital, one of the numerous facilities founded in the name of the patron saint of immigrants and operated by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
The site now serves as a minimum security correctional facility aimed at providing a second chance in the form of constructive re-entry programs to parolees and parole violators.
But advocates who gathered outside its doors recently said the state is essentially condemning residents housed there to needless health risks, and possibly death, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Faith leaders, criminal justice reformers and elected officials rallied outside of the Edgecombe Residential Treatment Facility (ERTF) in Washington Heights on Tues., May 12th to demand the release of incarcerated individuals amid the crisis.
Declaring that those in correctional facilities with congregate housing such as ERTF are at extreme risk of contracting the virus, they called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to grant clemency to prisoners who are elderly or medically vulnerable, within one year of their release, or held due to technical parole violations.
Most residents incarcerated at ERTF have less than one year on their sentences, and nearly one-quarter are held exclusively for technical parole violations. Technical violations are not new offenses but occur when a parolee essentially commits an infraction such as visiting a relative out of state without permission or misses a meeting, leading to reincarceration.
The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) oversees New York’s parole system and 52 state prisons and facilities, including ERTF. The system supervises 43,000 incarcerated individuals and employs approximately 29,000 people. To date, 15 people in New York’s prison system have died from COVID-19.
Read more: Relief in Release | Manhattan Times