Kern County Judge Blocks Mandatory Vaccinations for CDCR’s Correctional Officers

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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.

By Yasmeen Khan

CDCR Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes

As of Oct. 17, there have been a total of 51,035 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the CDCR system – 201 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 201 cases are active in custody, while 618 have been released while active. This is an increase of 207 cases in the past two weeks. 

Since the start of the pandemic, 49,975 confirmed cases have been resolved, and 241 individuals have died.

Since July, North Kern State Prison (NKSP) has been experiencing the state’s largest ongoing prison outbreak after the premature release of 51 incarcerated individuals from quarantine. 

The outbreak has shown significant signs of improvement, with cases decreasing from 137 at the height of the outbreak on Sep. 24,  to 10 as of today. 

North Kern State Prison has the third lowest patient vaccination rate–59%. The staff vaccination rate is slightly lower at 57%. 

On Oct. 4 an outbreak developed at CA State Prison Corcoran (COR), starting off with 3 cases. This week it has worsened, with an increase from 55 to 94, a  rise of almost 40 cases. There has been no increase in vaccinations in the past two weeks, with 78% of residents vaccinated and 53% of staff  vaccinated.

Wasco State Prison’s (WSP) has been experiencing a continuous outbreak since July. It has slightly improved in the past couple weeks, with cases initially at 30, peaking at 52, and now at 48 total active in custody. 

On Oct. 6 an outbreak began at High Desert State Prison (HDSP) with 14 cases active in custody. This week it worsened, with an increase from 17 to 23 cases, however case numbers have remained stagnant over the weekend.  

This week an outbreak has developed at Centinela State Prison (CEN). Since then there have been 6 more cases, bringing the total from 9 to 15, and a rise of two cases over the weekend.  

In the past two weeks, CA Institution for Women (CIW) has tested the most individuals, 70% of its population. Valley State Prison (VSP) has tested the least.

There are currently 99,126 incarcerated persons in California’s prisons – a reduction of 215 individuals  in the past two weeks. 

Effects on the Public

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

Since then, a judge on Wednesday blocked Judge Tigar’s vaccine mandate order that was due to take effect this week. 

Kern County Judge Bernard Barmann issued a temporary restraining order that prevents enforcement of the vaccination mandate for guards and peace officers. 

The order was only issued for employees represented by the Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), a powerful union that has dispensed tremendous efforts to push back against vaccine mandates. 

 Medical staff at prisons must still be vaccinated by this week (Oct. 14), under the Department of Public Health order. 

Judge Barmann, who was appointed by Gov. Newsom in December, was asked by ​​the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) to block the order for all prison employees.

Despite Newsom’s efforts to make vaccines mandatory for other state workers, he sides with the CCPOA and opposes a vaccine mandate for correctional workers. 

The Newsom administration pushed back against this mandate, and on Wednesday through Attorney General Rob Bonta – filed a notice of appeal on the ruling from Tigar.

Newsom’s position against the order comes after the California prison guards’ union donated $1.75 million to his recall election.

This type of opposition to a vaccine mandate is not new from the Newsom administration. 

He issued the country’s first vaccine mandate for school children, but didn’t require teachers and school staff to also get vaccinated, after the largest teachers union rewarded him $2 million during his recall election.

Rita Lomio, an attorney with the Prison Law Office asserts, “Gov. Newsom has chosen to elevate politics above the lives of the many elderly, disabled and medically fragile people in prison, most of whom are Black or brown.” 

This move to defend the CCPOA is contrary to the stance he took in September, shortly after his victorious recall election. 

“So, what I’m saying here is, be affirmative,” Newsom said he would tell national Democrats. “Don’t be timid. Lean in. Because at the end of the day, it’s not just about formal authority of setting the tone and tenor on masks — on vaccines and masks. But it’s the moral authority that we have: that we’re on the right side of history and we’re doing the right thing to save people’s lives.”

With almost 50 outbreaks being traced back to institution staff, vaccine mandates have been a growing cry for those concerned about the well being and safety of incarcerated individuals enduring the pandemic behind bars. 

Attorney Lomio warns, “These legal maneuvers and attempts at delay will only harm vulnerable patients who are in the state’s total control and who cannot otherwise protect themselves.”

​​A Chronicle analysis shows that as of Oct. 14 — when the judge’s order was supposed to go into effect — incarcerated individuals at every prison with more than 200 residents in California, except for Wasco State Prison in Kern County, are vaccinated at higher rates than guards.

Vaccinations

As of Oct. 17, 1,994 patients have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 76,535 are fully vaccinated. 77% of the total prison population is fully vaccinated, and 2% is partially vaccinated.

1,977 staff members have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 40, 292 staff are fully vaccinated. 61% of the total staff population is fully vaccinated, and 3% is partially vaccinated. 

Currently, Correctional Training Facility (CTF) has vaccinated the most incarcerated individuals, 92% of its population. Wasco State Prison (WSP), on the other hand, has vaccinated the least of its population, only 48%.

Division of Juvenile Justice

As of Oct. 15, 2021, there are no active cases of COVID-19 among youth. A total of 220 cases have been resolved since the first case was diagnosed in June, 2020.

A Year Ago Today

On Oct. 16 2020, there were 15,248 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in CDCR and 70 deaths.  

On Oct. 15 2020 An incarcerated person housed at California Institution for Men passed away from causes related to COVID-19.

On Oct. 14 2020 an incarcerated person housed at Folsom State Prison passed away from causes related to COVID-19.

References

https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/State-s-largest-ongoing-prison-COVID-outbreak-16483174.php

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/teachers-unions-rewards-gavin-newsom-with-2-million-for-its-year-long-paid-vacation

https://www.newsweek.com/judge-grants-california-prison-guards-block-vaccine-mandate-1638989

​​https://sjvsun.com/california/newsom-appeals-ruling-to-resist-court-ordered-vax-mandate-for-prison-guards/

https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/the-state-worker/article254569157.html

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-09-24/newsom-covid-19-vaccines-prison-guards

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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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