New Vaccine Mandate for Some CDCR Staff Could Be a Gamechanger, Peace Officers Association Pushes Back

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By Yasmeen Khan

The Covid In-Custody Project partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring quantitative and qualitative reporting on the pandemic’s impact on county jails and CDCR to the public eye. Read our bi-weekly update on CDCR’s COVID-19 crisis below.

Incarcerated Narratives 

Last August, San Quentin faced a deadly outbreak, that resulted in a death toll of 28 and thousands of infections. The outbreak was triggered by a botched transfer of 122 incarcerated people from the California Institution for Men, which was in the midst of a massive outbreak itself. 

Since then San Quentin has been slammed with over 300 individual habeas corpus petitions.

In an attempt to settle the petitions, CDCR offered a range of proposals, including ongoing vaccinations, medical reprieves at the governor’s discretion, publication of COVID-19 data on CDCR’s website, and free medical care while under CDCR’s jurisdiction. 

Most shockingly the CDCR’s settlement offer states, “As a morale booster CDCR will provide a special meal at SQ (e.g., pizza party).” 

To the petitioners who experienced life threatening circumstances as a result of CDCR’s mishandling of the transfer and subsequent outbreaks, the settlement is a deeply disappointing and unsuccessful attempt to take accountability. 

Petitioners feel that offering pizza is an insulting remedy for the Eighth Amendment violations. They also felt the rest of the settlement is insufficient to redress the harm that they endured, as most of the settlement offers items such as vaccinations that are already being provided to prison residents.

In response to the settlement offer, petitioner Mike Beaudettte asserts, “It’s a fucking insult…It’s  like spitting in an inmates face and then slapping them afterwards.”  

Another petitioner John Mattox, one of the first transferees to test positive said the CDCR’s attempt to settle the case is evidentiary of their culpability in creating prison conditions that amount to “cruel and unusual punishment,” during the outbreak. 

“Why offer a settlement if you did nothing wrong…CDCR knows they did wrong by us, but they don’t want to do the right thing,” Mattox expressed.  

CDCR Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes

As of Aug. 22 there have been a total of 49,780 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the CDCR system – 114 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 123 cases are active in custody, while 603 have been released while active. 

A total of 48,816 confirmed cases have been resolved since the start of the pandemic, and 238 individuals have died.

For the first time since February, weekly cases have risen above 100.

On Aug. 17 an incarcerated person housed at North Kern State Prison passed away from complications associated with COVID-19. 

San Quentin has reported a new COVID-19 outbreak after four incarcerated men tested positive, three of which are re-infections. They are housed in facility A, which has now been pushed back to Phase I of the Roadmap to Reopening plan. 

In light of the recent outbreak, San Quentin will no longer be accepting incoming transfers and has cancelled visitations and work assignments (except for critical workers). 

In the past two weeks, Central CA Women’s Facility has tested the most individuals, 87 percent of its population. Deuel Vocational Institution has tested the least, zero percent of its population.

There are currently 98,034 incarcerated persons in California’s prisons – a reduction of 22,898 since March 2020, when the prison outbreaks first began.

Effect on Public

A new state public health order announced on Aug. 19 will require more CDCR staff to be vaccinated. According to the order, “All paid and unpaid staff members who are regularly assigned to provide healthcare or healthcare services to inmates, prisoners, or detainees  and who are regularly assigned to work within hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities, or the equivalent that are integrated into the correctional facility or detention center in areas where health care is provided,” will be required to get vaccinated by Oct. 14.

The order also requires staff who work in a healthcare setting, but may not be medical providers, to also get vaccinated. “Workers providing health care to inmates, prisoners, and detainees, as well as persons not directly involved in delivering health care, but who could be exposed to infectious agents that can be transmitted in the health care setting (e.g., clerical, dietary, janitorial services, laundry, correctional officers, facilities maintenance staff, administrative, inmate workers, and volunteer personnel),” are also required to comply.

Staff may be exempt from this mandate for religious beliefs or qualifying medical reasons, given that they provide signed declination form. For medical exemptions, they must also supply a written statement signed by a physician, nurse practitioner, or other licensed medical professional practicing under the license of a physician stating that the individual qualifies for the exemption. 

Workers who are exempt from being vaccinated will still be subject to periodic testing and masking. Testing must occur twice weekly for unvaccinated exempt workers in acute health care and long-term care settings, and once weekly for exempt workers in other healthcare settings.

This mandate is the most rigorous out of a series of public health orders outlining CDCR staff vaccination and testing requirements issued over the last few weeks. On July 26, a health order was issued requiring all correctional agencies to ascertain the vaccination status of staff and require unvaccinated staff to get tested weekly. Vaccinations, however, were not mandated under this order. On Aug. 5, another public health order was issued that mandated vaccinations for all medical providers in healthcare settings, however, it did not apply to correctional agencies.

The new order, released on Aug. 19, will overwrite the requirements of the July 26 order in correctional facilities that have in-house healthcare as it mandates vaccinations for all staff — medical or non-medical. We are yet to see how the order will impact county jails that provide in-house medical care.

This mandate came shortly after federal receiver J. Clark Kelso, requested a judge for a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination order for guards and staff at the prisons in his 27-page report to the court expressing his concerns with CDCR health conditions and new variants.

Prior to Kelso’s request, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered nearly a quarter-million state employees and at least 2 million health care workers to show proof of vaccination, but offered regular testing as an alternative. 

California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which serves as the State Correctional Officers Union, released a memo stating that they will fight back against vaccine requirements, as they do not find current infection rates severe enough to warrant vaccine mandates.

The union expressed in their memo, “CCPOA believes both of these orders exceed what is medically necessary to slow and prevent the spread of COVID inside the institutions.”

On the contrary, prison rights advocates believe this mandate is a necessary step in preventing new outbreaks and effectively protecting the health of incarcerated individuals. UC Hastings professor Hadar Aviram argued, “The bottom line is that if it is a problem for the sheriff’s department, or for CCPOA or for the state of California to recruit people who cannot be conscientious about (protecting) the people that they are guarding from a medical catastrophe, the conclusion is we should not be (incarcerating) nearly as many people as we do.”

Vaccinations

As of Aug. 22, 3,094 patients have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 73,678 are fully vaccinated. 74 percent of the total prison population is either partially or fully vaccinated.

1,705 staff members have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 34,792 staff are fully vaccinated. 53 percent of the total staff population is either partially or fully vaccinated.

Currently, the Correctional Training Facility (CTF) has vaccinated the most incarcerated individuals, 88 percent of its population. Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) on the other hand, has vaccinated the least of its staff population, only 20 percent.

Division of Juvenile Justice

As of Aug. 20, there are no active cases of COVID-19 among youth. A total of 206 cases have been resolved since the first case was diagnosed in June, 2020.

A Year Ago Today

On Aug. 22 of last year, CDCR reported two deaths from causes related to COVID-19 at Ironwood State Prison and California Institution for Men. There were 9,779  confirmed cases in CDCR and 55 deaths at this time last year.  

References

https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/Order-of-the-State-Public-Health-Officer-Correctional-Facilities-and-Detention-Centers-Health-Care-Worker-Vaccination-Order.aspx#

https://ktla.com/news/california/some-california-prison-workers-now-required-to-get-vaccinated-against-covid-19/

https://www.audacy.com/kcbsradio/news/state/should-california-require-covid-19-vaccine-to-prison-guards

https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/the-state-worker/article253263213.html

https://prisonjournalismproject.org/pjp-stories/san-quentin-cell-unit-under-quarantine 

https://prisonjournalismproject.org/pjp-stories/san-quentin-offers-pizza-party-in-a-covid-19-settlement 

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About The Author

Aparna Komarla leads the Covid In-Custody project, which partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring reporting on the pandemic's impact on county jails and CDCR to the public eye. See www.covidincustody.org for more information.

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