“Based on the best data we have, prioritizing just certain segments of the prison or prison population is not enough,” said Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “The most effective strategy would be to prioritize all people as there is a risk of exposure in the area.”
Beyond state prisons, officials have taken various approaches when it comes to vaccines for people in custody. That month, the federal prison system said it had fully vaccinated more than 13,000 federal inmates among its approximately 151,000 prisoners. Local prisons in Illinois and Massachusetts, among others, are firing inmates, while many do not yet need to start vaccinating inmates. Correction workers, as well as law enforcement officers and firefighters, were eligible in many states.
In some places, the prospect that state prison inmates would prefer vaccines has been met with political anger.
In Colorado, state prisoners were initially given priority over some other vulnerable groups. The plan, drawn up by a group of health experts, was abandoned by Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat, amid complaints from critics.
March 17, 2021, 12:40 p.m. ET
“There is no way to go to prisoners before it goes to people who have not committed a crime,” Polis said late last year.
Colorado’s current vaccination schedule no longer specifically mentions detainees, but around 1,400 inmates had received at least the first dose of the vaccine since last week. The state began vaccinating state prison inmates based on their eligibility in the state when they weren’t incarcerated, a spokeswoman for the state correctional department said. And after health officials discovered that two employees and an inmate of the Buena Vista Correctional Complex were infected with a worrying variant – the first known detection in a U.S. correctional facility – the state approved all inmates at the facility to allow shooting.
In Oregon, after vaccinating more than 1,000 of the state’s 12,100 prison inmates in January, vaccinations were stopped abruptly after the state’s Corrections Department expressed a misunderstanding about which inmates were eligible. Public criticism of prisoners took precedence over the elderly, although the state was ultimately ordered by a federal judge to vaccinate every prisoner.