Federal Judge Mandates Vaccinations for California Prison Staff, Peace Officers’ Association Pushes Back

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. Visit our website to view and download raw data on cases, testing, releases and vaccinations.

CDCR Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes

As of Oct. 3, there have been a total of 50,828 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the CDCR system – 220 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 227 cases are active in custody, while 613 have been released while active. 

Since the start of the pandemic, 49,748 confirmed cases have been resolved, and 240 individuals have died from COVID-related complications.

For the past two weeks, North Kern State Prison (NKSP) has experienced the state’s largest ongoing prison outbreak, and has not shown any signs of improvement. There have been 32 new cases this week, bringing the total from 131 to 164 cases active in custody. 

State officials have linked the spread of the NKSP outbreak to an infected staff member, but it is not known whether this staff member is vaccinated or not. 

The SF Chronicle reports that the outbreak also coincides with the premature release of 51 incarcerated people from mandatory 14-day quarantine into the facility’s general population on Sept. 7th. 

CDCR press secretary Dana Simas stated that the two-day early release from quarantine had nothing to do with the outbreak. “All 51 persons had received their mandatory 12th day COVID test prior to the movement and were awaiting results to come back. All tests returned negative, and there is no link between this premature move and the current COVID-19 outbreak.”

NKSP also has the third lowest patient vaccination rate and a staff vaccination rate of 55 percent. In the past two weeks, NKSP has had the highest testing rate of all CDCR prisons — 95% of the population was tested.

CA State Prison Solano (SOL) is also experiencing a significant outbreak with 30 cases active in custody.

There are currently 99,341 incarcerated persons in California’s prisons – a reduction of nearly 27,000 from the population in March 2020 of over 126,000 individuals. 

Effects on the Public 

On Sept. 27, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar ordered all correctional officers and staff entering California’s prisons to get vaccinated.

This order falls under the Plata v. Newsom case regarding health provisions in prisons, and gives the judge broad authority to direct medical care. 

It applies to all 34 of California’s prisons and does allow for religious and medical exemptions. 

It also extends to incarcerated persons who desire to work outside of the institution or to have in-person visitation must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or establish a religious or medical exemption. 

Judge Tigar asserted that, “A mandate would lower the risk of preventable death and serious medical consequences among incarcerated persons. And no one has identified any remedy that will produce anything close to the same benefit.”

The correctional officers union have continued to fight the request to mandate vaccinations for all corrections guards and staff. The California prison guards’ union donated $1.5 million to Gov. Newsom during the recall election.

Glen Stailey, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, said in a text message, “We’ve undertaken an aggressive, voluntary vaccination program, and we still believe the voluntary approach is the best way forward. We are looking into our legal options to address this order.”  

Many correctional officers believe they are unfairly being burdened with the responsibility to prevent outbreaks, and point to the fact that 22% of incarcerated individuals who have refused to get vaccinated.  

Between July 31 and Sept. 10, 2021, a staggering 48 outbreaks “have been traced back to institutional staff,”

Ultimately, the Court did not set a compliance deadline in this order, and instead orders the Receiver and Defendants (CDCR) to submit an implementation plan that includes such a deadline.


As of Oct. 3, 1,924 patients have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 75,967 are fully vaccinated. 76% of the total prison population is fully vaccinated, and 2% is partially vaccinated.

2,303 staff members have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 38,575 staff are fully vaccinated. 58% of the total staff population is fully vaccinated, and 3% is partially vaccinated. 

Currently, Correctional Training Facility (CTF) has vaccinated the most incarcerated individuals, 91 percent of its population. 

Division of Juvenile Justice

As of Sept. 28, 2021, there are no active cases of COVID-19 among youth. A total of 219 cases have been resolved since the first case was diagnosed in June 2020. 

A Year Ago Today 

On Oct. 4 2020, an incarcerated person housed at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison passed away from causes related to COVID-19.

On Oct. 2 2020, there were 14,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in CDCR and 68 deaths.  








About The Author

The Covid In-Custody Project partners with the Davis Vanguard to report on the pandemic's impact on California's county jails and state prisons. See www.covidincustody.org for more information.

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