Coronavirus

Federal Judge Orders Oregon To Offer Vaccines to Incarcerated People Immediately

"During difficult times we must remain the most vigilant to protect the constitutional rights of the powerless," the judge writes.

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A federal judge has ordered the state of Oregon to immediately begin offering COVID-19 vaccines to incarcerated people.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday requiring Oregon to include all state prison inmates in Phase 1A, Group 2, of Oregon's vaccination plan, which puts them in the same tier as those living and working in congregate care facilities, such as nursing homes. Oregon's misguided vaccination rollout prioritized correctional staff and prison employees, but not inmates. Seven inmates at Oregon correctional facilities filed motions in federal court on January 21, as part of a larger class action lawsuit filed last April, seeking to compel the state to offer vaccines to all inmates.

Under current Supreme Court precedent, the Eighth Amendment guarantees access to basic health care and hygiene, but they must show "deliberate indifference" by staff to prevail in a civil rights lawsuit challenging prison conditions. Beckerman ruled that the incarcerated plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their claims that being passed over for vaccines amounted to such indifference.

"The narrow question before the Court is whether prioritizing those living and working in congregate care facilities and those working in correctional settings to receive the vaccine, but denying the same priority for those living in correctional settings, demonstrates deliberate indifference to the health and safety of those relying on the state's care," Beckerman wrote in her ruling.

"Our constitutional rights are not suspended during a crisis," Beckerman continued. "On the contrary, during difficult times we must remain the most vigilant to protect the constitutional rights of the powerless. Even when faced with limited resources, the state must fulfill its duty of protecting those in its custody."

So far, 42 incarcerated people in Oregon have died from COVID-19, and more than 3,000 have been infected.

"This will save an incredible amount of lives," Juan Chavez, an Oregon Justice Resource Center attorney who is representing the seven inmates, told The Oregonian.

Last week, The Oregonian reported on "the dire situation in Oregon's prisons, where COVID cases have spiked dramatically, prisoners are afraid and frustrated."

Prison and jails across the country, under pressure from an unusual alliance of prison guard unions and civil liberties groups, took unprecedented steps to reduce their populations, leading to a significant drop in the total incarcerated population. But those measures still did not go far enough to stop prisons and jails from becoming some of the biggest COVID hotspots in the U.S.

According to The Marshall Project, at least 366,121 people in prison nationwide had tested positive for the illness as of January 26, and 2,314 had died.

"The Department of Corrections received Judge Beckerman's order to vaccinate all adults in state custody," Oregon Department of Corrections Director Colette Peters says in a statement. "This pandemic has been exceedingly difficult for those who live and work in our institutions, and we will continue to work hard to combat this virus. Operationally, we are prepared to offer and administer additional vaccines. We know vaccines will slow the spread of COVID-19 inside Oregon's institutions for those in our care and custody, and in turn, protect our employees and Oregon communities."

NEXT: What the War on Drugs Can Teach Us About Fighting COVID-19

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  1. Hopefully before old people. Just tell me they’re in line before old people and I’m on board.

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  2. I like this judge. If you don’t want vaccines going to prisoners stop putting people in cages.

    1. If you don’t like ‘people in cages’, do you have some idea WHERE the ones who can’t obey the law should be? I would love to know where you people think child rapists, abusers, murderers should be. I am going to say that even you all aren’t silly enough to think they should be loose on the street with everyone else in the population who can manage to be (and stay) law abiding citizens. If people shouldn’t be in cages, don’t you think they should STOP doing crap to get put there?
      I can bet that the problem isn’t the where of it but the who of it. People who manage to live productive (and law-abiding) lives most likely are not liking the idea that prisoners get protected before the rest of society. They landed their because they couldn’t be left in society and behave.

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  5. I’m sure that the senior citizens in Oregon, who are more likely to die of Covid that the gang-bangers in prison, are all behind this effort to get themselves vaccinated even later.

    1. As a senior citizen in Oregon, I am not opposed to vaccinating prisoners before some other groups (most DEFINITELY before teachers, most of whom are NOT working.)

      A looks at the statistics show that nearly one-in-four prisoners are infected. That is huge, though, due to their age, few are dying.

      On the other hand, there are some 450,000 folks over 65 in this State, and only about 13,000 folks in prison. In other words, it means I might have to wait one or two days later for my vaccination. I can live with that. Don’t EVEN get me started on teachers being prioritized, most of whom are not working and won’t be until August at the earliest.

  6. So according to the Marshall Project the mortality rate for inmates is 0.05%, yet they are to be placed in the same category as old folk with COVID mortality rate of about 5%.

    1. The total number of active teachers (k-12) who have died is 174, as of Feb 1st. In the entirety of the USA.

      That is .009%

      (https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/educators-weve-lost-to-the-coronavirus/2020/04)

      Yet, in Oregon, they are being vaccinated ahead of eighty-year-olds.

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    2. Prison staff (union employees) were prioritized over prisoners. The inmates have no ability to self-isolate (unlike old folk).

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  7. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

  8. Doesn’t the bible also say “thou shall not take moochers into thy hut?”

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