New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday inmates in a state prison will produce 100,000 gallons of a state-branded hand sanitizer to offset reported price gouging by vendors and shortages of the product in government agencies, schools, prisons and mass transit lines stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.
Cuomo’s announcement came during a daily press conference on the COVID-19 outbreak, which has worsened in New York over the last week.
Called “NYS Clean,” the hand sanitizer will be produced by inmates at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in upstate New York.
Corcraft, the division of the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision that arranges industrial and manufacturing work for prison inmates, pays inmates an average of 65 cents per hour, Gothamist reported in 2017.
Last week, the Marshall Project reported that many prisons are ill-equipped to protect inmates from the coronavirus outbreak — including not being able to supply alcohol-based hand sanitizer because in some facilities, it is considered contraband.
It’s likely that the inmates who produce the hand sanitizer will not be able to use it, based on a directive from state corrections officials issued in June that denotes items inmates are not allowed to receive. Among the banned toiletry and cosmetic items, it says: “No item may be received which lists alcohol as an ingredient” — which would include alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Cuomo at his press conference boasted about the prison product’s higher alcohol level (75%, more than the 60% recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for alcohol-based hand sanitizers), lower price and “floral bouquet” scent.
“This is a superior product to products now on the market,” the governor said, after unveiling the new bottles of hand sanitizer, hidden behind a set of curtains.
On Saturday, he declared a state of emergency for New York in order to expedite funding, the allocation of health care professionals and resources, and testing for the virus.
As of Monday, the state had reported 142 confirmed cases of it. The executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Rick Cotton, is among those newly testing positive for COVID-19, Cuomo announced.
Some schools in the state have closed and some colleges have canceled classes, including New York City’s Columbia University.
Later Monday, several legal advocacy and criminal justice reform organizations blasted Cuomo’s move to use prison labor to produce the state-branded hand sanitizer.
“This is nothing less than slave labor and it must end,” the Legal Aid Society of New York City said in a statement. “These individuals work for less than a dollar a day under threat of punishment ― including solitary confinement ― if they refuse. Albany must pay these individuals the minimum wage and lawmakers must legislate to eradicate forced labor across our state for good. It would be even more shocking if prisons and jails were to deem this Corcraft product ‘contraband’ and deprive incarcerated New Yorkers from possessing effective hand sanitizer because of the alcohol content. The same individuals who produce this product should not be prohibited from using it.”
A coalition of five groups, including Citizen Action of NY, VOCAL-NY and Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, issued a statement saying: “We are disgusted at Governor Cuomo’s decision to exploit prison labor to push back the imminent public health crisis presented by COVID-19 while doing absolutely nothing for incarcerated people across the state.”
The groups called on Cuomo to raise wages for prison laborers.