The First Department determined the petitions for writs of habeas corpus brought by inmates at Rikers Island, arguing the risk of contracting COVID-19 at the jail required release, were properly denied. State and Federal constitutional arguments were raised. The analysis, which is too complex to fairly summarize here, came down to weighing the danger to the inmates against the danger to the public entailed by release:
Far from acting recklessly, respondents [city and state] have demonstrated great care to ensure the safety of everyone who enters the facility. By any objective measure, they have been anything but indifferent to the risk that COVID-19 poses to the jail population.
Even petitioners admit that respondents have taken substantial measures to reduce the spread of the virus on Rikers Island, and have had success in doing so. Moreover, petitioners have not cited to any controlling authority to establish that anything short of release constitutes deliberate indifference. …
That the State has agreed to release a significant number of detainees to help control the spread of the virus actually demonstrates that it has given a great deal of consideration to who should and should not be released, and its decision not to release petitioners based on their criminal history backgrounds is thus persuasive. Coupled with what the State and City have done to protect detainees, discussed above, we conclude that the weighing of interests falls in respondents’ favor. Matter of People ex rel. Stoughton v Brann, 2020 NY Slip Op 04236, First Dept 7-23-20