Meeks demands answers amid COVID-19 outbreak at private jail near JFK

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Photo via Google Maps.

Congressman Gregory Meeks is demanding answers from the warden of a privately run jail near JFK International Airport where COVID-19 cases are on the rise among inmates as well as staff.

In a letter to the Facility Administrator William Zerillo at the GEO Secure Services Queens Detention Facility in Springfield Gardens, Meeks sought additional information about the status of the inmates, its plan to control the outbreak given the confined and shared space, and access to health services at the facility.

“Your own April 14 update describing 25 detainees testing positive and 10 staff testing positive is alarming given the size of the prison population, and limitations in providing space or to quarantine inmates,” Meeks wrote.

The 222-bed Queens Detention Facility, located at 182-22 150th Ave., is currently used by the U.S. Marshals Service and used to operate as an ICE detention center until its contract expired in 2005.

“It is my understanding that symptomatic and positive inmates are currently housed in open dormitories with non-symptomatic inmates,” Meeks wrote. “Given that there are a number of different dormitories, can the facility move the symptomatic and positive inmates into one or two dorms, so that they are not in close proximity with other inmates?”

GEO Group said all of its inmates have access to healthcare 24/7 and they follow guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. The company says it deployed special sanitation teams to sterilize the high-contact area of the facility and that they advised all employees to stay home if they exhibit flu-like symptoms.

“We will continue to coordinate closely with our government partners and local health agencies to ensure the health and safety of all those in our care and our employees,” GEO Group said in a statement.

Meeks sent a copy of his letter to the director of the U.S. Marshals Service.

“In this unprecedented time, it is critical that we do all that we can to care for the most vulnerable among us,” Meeks concluded. Detainees and staff at the Queens Detention Facility deserve every effort to protect them from the many risks of COVID-19.”