Virus spread behind bars heightens anxiety for kin of asthmatic inmate

ContributedDaryl Dawkins sits with one of his children in this undated photo provided by his family.

ALBANY — The mother of state prison inmate Darryl L. Dawkins, incarcerated at upstate Clinton Correctional Facility, says she worries the next few weeks could turn into a death sentence for him.

He is asthmatic, Clay Dawkins said, making the father of four young children vulnerable to potentially deadly consequences from the coronavirus.

"He has very labored breathing," Clay Dawkins, who lives in Pennsylvania, told CNHI. "His children want their daddy home with them."

Darryl Dawkins, 32, being held for a parole violation following a robbery conviction in Queens, is scheduled to complete his maximum stay in prison June 11.

Noting he is confined to a cubicle just 10 doors away from the cell of an inmate who tested positive for the virus, Clay Dawkins and a close family friend, Carmen Fears, said they are doing all they can to urge state officials to release him early.

The anxiety of families of both inmates and corrections officers and other prison staffers has been rising as the COVID-19 contagion sickens more incarcerated people as well as those who work with them in the facilities.

As of Friday, 36 state prison inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, as have 201 of the state Department of Correctional Services and Community Services' 29,000 employees. In addition, 13 New York parolees have acquired the infection, officials said.

Two inmates have died. And, the New York State Corrections Officers Police Benevolent Association said Thursday, a security officer at the state Kirby/Manhattan Psychiatric Center, William Plantt, 62, died Thursday night after contracting the virus.

Among those who has tested positive in an upstate prison is convicted rapist and former Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein, 68, being held at Wende Correctional Facility in Erie County.

On Friday, several activists gathered outside Sing Sing state prison in Ossining, following the March 30 virus-linked death there of an inmate identified as Juan Mosquero, to call on Cuomo to grant emergency clemencies to elderly inmates and those with compromised immune systems.

In Albany, at his televised virus briefing, Cuomo, without alluding to any specific situation at any of he facilities, said: "We have no measures to lessen crowding in state prisons."

In the state budget enacted last week, lawmakers gave the Cuomo administration the authority to close at least two prisons. As of March 1, the statewide prison population stood at 43,801 inmates.

As for the spread of the contagion behind bars, Cuomo said, "I have put in a number of regulations and rules to reduce the risks. But as to reducing the prison population, we don't have any way to do that right now."

Last week, the federal Bureau of Prisons, whose penitentiaries are separate from state prisons, announced that in an attempt to keep the virus spread in check it was quarantining all inmates for 14 days. Some prison reform groups responded that a better approach would be to bleed down the population of inmates through commutations of sentences.

In New York, the Cuomo administration has moved to stop visits to inmates and take other steps to raise awareness regarding the need for frequent hand-washing and maintaining sanitary conditions.

As for Daryl Dawkins, Fears said she has spoken to the prisoner several times by phone this week. She said he relayed how inmates continue to congregate together in a prison yard. Dawkins, she said, can only shower once a week.

She said she has called and emailed a slew of state officials in hopes of getting Dawkins' situation reviewed. The prison counseling office at Clinton, she said, has been closed because it was not among the services considered essential.

"I have been reaching out to everybody who is out there in hopes somebody will look into this," Fears said.

She continued: "He only has a little more than 60 days before he is a free man for good. He has made it this far. But now we're frightened because he is in the line of fire. We're hoping he can get out as soon as possible."

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at

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