By: Brenda De La Cruz
Inmates deserve COVID vaccines just as much as other individuals. In fact, giving them access can help slow the spread of the virus altogether and that’s the goal, right?
During the current pandemic, the world rushed to create a vaccine to fight the COVID-19 disease. While the world awaited the results from the testing of many vaccine trials, thoughts on how these vaccines should be distributed began forming.
Would the elderly or those with immunodeficiency health issues be the first to be vaccinated, or should frontline workers be the first to be protected? Many questions were floating around, but inmates may not have crossed many peoples’ minds. Inmates may not be thought of as worthy of receiving a possibly life-saving vaccine, but aren’t they still human beings?
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s website (CDCR), as of Feb. 25, the current prison population is 91, 322. Of those inmates, there are currently 379 active cases of COVID-19 within the state. Of all the cases in the state, 211 inmates and 26 staff members have died due to complications related to COVID-19.
Inmates are locked up in small confined areas. Therefore they cannot simply go outside and contract the virus. The only possibility of contracting the disease is through staff who are able to leave the prisons/jails as they please. How else is the virus getting in?
CDCR currently has 443 active covid cases, with 167 new cases being detected within the last two weeks. This does not place the blame on CDCR staff, as they are simply doing their job, but how do they expect to slow the spread if they don’t protect those who are considered a high-risk population?
It becomes a cycle, because once inmates begin to feel better, they may have already infected their cellmate, who may have been in close contact with an unsuspecting staff member, and the virus carries on to additional hosts.
The CDCR is following the California Department of Public Health’s guidelines, and as of Feb. 25, over 25,000 staff and almost 40,000 inmates have been given their first dose of the vaccine. This means that almost 44 percent of California inmates are at least somewhat protected.
While there may be questions on whether or not inmates deserve to be protected due to their past behavior, who gets to decide whether or not human beings get some sort of second chance during a global pandemic? If the state, or even the entire world, allows those incarcerated to be forgotten, will that not allow the virus to continue spreading within the walls and onto CDCR staff, ultimately lingering elsewhere?
An additional concern is the fact that many inmates have been released, and continue to be released, as a way to fight the virus.
Due to the virus being contracted when people are in close confined spaces, many inmates have been released to avoid the virus from spreading further inside the prisons.
This means that these same inmates are being released out to the public, and it’s unknown if they carry the virus unknowingly, further exposing others.
From March through December of 2020, a total of 2,635 inmates were released in California alone, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. How exactly sure can CDCR staff be that none of these released individuals had any exposure to coronavirus?
As of March 2, California has 3,481,611 confirmed cases of COVID-19, as well as 52,497 coronavirus- related deaths. According to covid19.ca.gov, the number of covid-related deaths increased by 0.6 percent from the day before. Taking into consideration the number of inmates being released daily, it’s a risk not having them vaccinated prior to re-entering society.
Some inmates who are released may have underlying health conditions, making them prone to contracting COVID-19 once back in society. These inmates may have made mistakes that landed them in jail, but they did their time and should be given a chance to redeem themselves, even during a pandemic.
It only makes sense that in order to eradicate a global crisis, we protect all and not just those we feel are worthy. By helping those whom society has forgotten, we can help protect the rest of the public. The sooner society vaccinates as many human lives, the sooner we can possibly return to living our normal lives once again.