Vaccine mandates against the Coronavirus should be applied to the nation’s jail and prison populations, starting with those confined in federal facilities, argues a columnist.
Prisoners are more than five times more likely to contract the virus and three times more likely to die from it than people outside, some of whom are subject to vaccine mandates, but only corrections officers are required to be vaccinated as a condition of their jobs, writes Chandra Bozelko in a column for BizNews Post.
“Incarcerated people were at such high risk of catching Covid-19 that Congress authorized the release of prisoners to home confinement in last year’s CARES Act,” Bozelko wrote, adding “It doesn’t make sense” not to apply a similar requirement to incarcerees.
Bozelko notes that ironically corrections staff are among the fiercest opponents of mandatory vaccines. In New York, corrections officers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in late October to protest New York City’s vaccine mandate. About 40 percent of Massachusetts prison guards aren’t vaccinated, and they lost their latest bid to not comply with the state’s vaccine mandate.
“In Connecticut, where I was once incarcerated, almost one-third of employees resisting vaccination are corrections officers,” Bozelko wrote.
According to Bozelko, the incarcerated population represented an early focus of efforts to prevent the spread of the pandemic because of the dangers of living in the crowded, closely confined places of prisons.
Under the CARES act, Congress authorized the release of prisoners to home confinement, and many states distributed shots to their incarcerated wards before they let people who weren’t in custody get them.
In January 2021, the state of Virginia rewarded prisoners willing to get vaccinated with telephone credits and care packages, Pennsylvania deposited cash into prisoners’ accounts, and Massachusetts gave prisoners five days off their sentences before the governor rescinded the policy.
Adding incarcerees to the list of those required to be vaccinated would be a logical next step, Bozelko wrote.
“If there is a real reason for excluding incarcerated individuals from vaccine mandates, it can’t be science-based because all available research on Covid-19 and its spread indicates the vaccine’s efficacy and safety and the increased risk of illness and death among unvaccinated people,” Bozelko observed.
“And I’m not persuaded there’s a valid political calculus behind the exclusion.”
A vaccine mandate for federal prisoners would apply only to the 156,575 people in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, but state and local corrections authorities could use it as “cover” to extended the requirement to individuals in their custody, Bozelko wrote.
A bill currently before Congress, the Covid-19 Safer Detention Act, would expedite certain requests for compassionate release, though the bill has been awaiting action since February.
Bozelko called the failure to apply vaccine mandates to incarcerees a “deviation from promised policy.”
“President Biden, who pledged to make evidence-based decision-making a hallmark of his administration, is ignoring the data on this one, plain and simple, while investigating others for doing the same thing.”
Bozelko is a a 2020-2021 John Jay Justice Reporting fellow.