New York City is offering prisoners at Rikers Island jail $6 per hour — a fortune by prison labor standards — and personal protective equipment if they agree to help dig mass graves on Hart Island, according to sources with knowledge of the offer. Avery Cohen, a spokesperson for the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed the general arrangement, but said that it was not “Covid-specific,” noting that prisoners have been digging graves on Hart Island for years.

The offer is only being made to those with convictions, not those jailed before trial, as is generally the case. A memo sent to prisoners, according to a source who reviewed it, does not specify what the work on Hart Island will be, but the reference to PPE leaves little doubt. The offer comes as New York City continues to be the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, with 38,000 people infected and more than 914 dead so far. New York City owns and operates a public cemetery on Hart Island, which has long been maintained by prison labor. The island was identified as a potential resting place for a surge of bodies in the event of a pandemic by a 2008 report put together by the NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner.