By Alexander Ramirez
LOS ANGELES – Although having been eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for months now, correctional officers in facilities across the U.S. have refused to be vaccinated.
States chose to prioritize the vaccination of staff at these facilities to build a firewall between prisoners and the virus, as opposed to offering the vaccine to the incarcerated people at these facilities as suggested by medical experts.
With staff refusing to accept the vaccine, however, prisoners are still at risk of getting hit by the virus.
When Wanda Bertram and Wendy Sawyer from the Prison Policy Initiative compiled research from different sources, that included the UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, they found that across the country, the median vaccination rate for a single dose of the vaccine was only 48 percent for prison guards.
Colorado has even started offering $500 to staffers who receive the vaccine.
When including the Federal prison system with the 36 state prison systems from the data, the average percentage for staff who have received at least one of the doses of the vaccine sits at 43 percent.
In order to protect the incarcerated population in each of these prison systems, Bertram and Sawyer asserted that these systems must step away from the idea to build a firewall.
“As the new data shows, it’s simply not true that “offering” the vaccine to correctional officers amounts to protecting incarcerated people or the public from the rapid spread of the virus in correctional facilities.”
Instead, they suggested other alternatives.
The first alternative is the offering of the vaccination to all incarcerated people in these prison systems, on the basis that prisoners are more likely to contract and die from the virus than the staff.
The second alternative suggests a depopulation of prisons and jails to mitigate the already dense environment. As for how this depopulation would occur, Bertram and Sawyer suggested that states should prioritize those medically disadvantaged and expansions of parole.
“As long as states ignore and neglect incarcerated people, there will be no end in sight to the pandemic in prisons and jails,” they said.
Alexander Ramirez is a third-year Political Science major at the University of California, Davis. He hopes to hone his writing skills in preparation for the inevitable time of graduation.
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