Criminal Justice

Some Ohio Judges Are Mandating Vaccinations as a Condition of Probation. That's an Abuse of Power.

Threatening somebody with prison for refusing a shot is no way to end a pandemic.


A Cincinnati judge has ordered a man to get a COVID-19 vaccination as condition of probation. Other judges in Ohio are apparently doing the same thing, even though getting vaccinated has nothing to do with preventing criminal behavior.

WCPO reports that when Brandon Rutherford was before Hamilton County Pleas Court Judge Christopher Wagner to be sentenced for a drug conviction, Wagner asked if he had been vaccinated. When the 21-year-old said he hadn't been planning on getting the shots, Wagner ordered him to do so within two months of his probation release (known as "community control" in Ohio).

Rutherford complained to WCPO that "for him to tell me that I have to get it in order for me to not violate my probation is crazy, because I'm just trying to do what I can to get off this as quickly as possible, like finding a job and everything else, but that little thing can set me back."

If Rutherford refuses to get vaccinated, his probation could be extended—or he could even be forced into prison. That makes the threat bizarrely ironic, as our jails and prisons have been COVID-19 incubators and a dangerous place to send the unvaccinated.

Ohio's probation regulations do give judges leeway to "impose any other conditions of release under a community control sanction that the court considers appropriate." While the rules focus on forbidding probationers from abusing drugs while released, the construction of the law doesn't confine the judge's authority to drug use.

Wagner subsequently told The Cincinnati Enquirer that it's the court's responsibility to "rehabilitate" a defendant and "protect the community." He noted that judges have the authority to order drug, alcohol, and mental health treatments as conditions for probation.

But those treatments are at least connected to addressing issues that could contribute to a person's criminal behavior. Whether a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19 is not an indicator of whether that person will engage in subsequent crimes.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has found some other examples of judges in Ohio either mandating vaccinations or offering reduced probation terms as an incentive to get the shots. A Columbus judge has ordered at least 20 people to get vaccinated as part of probation sentences. He told the Ohio Capitol-Journal that he sees this as "a reasonable condition when we're telling people to be employed and out in the community."

It is not a "reasonable condition." It's an abuse of judicial authority. Yes, these people should, for their own good and for the good of people around them, get vaccinated against COVID-19. But probabtion isn't a public health tool; it exists to give a person an opportunity to leave prison early or avoid incarceration entirely by demonstrating that they won't commit further crimes.

The American probation system has a big problem with what's known as "technical violations." These are situations where a person violates the terms of his or her probation but does not actually violate the law. Millions of Americans are under some form of post-release supervision. Every year, about 350,000 of these people are sent back to jail or prison. Some of them, of course, commit new crimes while out on release. But many end up back for things like missing meetings or being late to court dates. In areas where marijuana use has been legalized, judges can nevertheless threaten to revoke people's probation if they consume it.

Season 3 of the podcast Serial focused on judges' "discretion" in setting probation rules in Cleveland's courts. Episode after episode showed how judges use the threat of prison to control people's lives in condescending and unforgiving ways that have little to do with actually preventing crime.

So it shouldn't come too much as a surprise that Ohio judges see their vast discretionary powers as an excuse to force people to get vaccinated. But as much as we may want people to get their COVID-19 shots, it is an abuse of power to demand that they do so in order to be free from jail.

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  1. >>Threatening somebody with prison for refusing a shot is no way to end a pandemic.

    is a good way to start other things, though.

    1. According to Google, there have been about 205k deaths from COVID in the last 30 days worldwide. World population is 7.9E9 people. That’s 0.0026% of the world died last month from COVID.

      This is about close to the end as it’s ever going to get.

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    2. Shackford worked hard to help make this happen.

  2. “Whether a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19 is not an indicator of whether that person will engage in subsequent crimes.”

    If judges can (and routinely do) prohibit alcohol and drug consumption as conditions of probation, mandating a covid vaccine (or proof of natural immunity) seems reasonable.

    1. Alcohol and drugs in excess have a history of making people violent and stupid.

      1. And are often part and parcel to the crime the person is on probation for.

        Additionally, once someone has completed their probation they can go back to consuming drugs and alcohol if they choose, they cannot, however, “unvaccinate” themselves if they wanted to

    2. a. do not put these in you
      b. put this in you

      1. I think Buttplug says that to eight year old boys.

        1. I feel terrible lol’ing at this.

    3. Threatening somebody with prison for refusing a shot is no way to end a pandemic.
      Who said anything about ending a pandemic?

    4. I’m sorry but no one should be forced to put something in their body if they don’t want to. No one should be forced get the shot and the courts have no right to make them.
      The court system is fucked up.

  3. Defund the Judiciary!

  4. Dead & Company (John Mayer and 3 original members of the Grateful Dead) and Phish announced that covid vaccine cards (or proof of a recent negative covid test) will be required for everyone who attends their upcoming concert tour.

    Dead & Company is also requiring evidence of a vaccine for everyone who enters the pit area near the stage.

    Although opposing government agencies mandating vaccines (except for there own employees), I support the policy announced by the original hippie band of the 1960s, and I have a ticket for the 8/28 concert in Hershey, PA.

    This may be the last time Bob Weir, Billy Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart tour together).

    1. What a long strange trip its been.

      1. The Dead came round and busted me for smiling on a cloudy day.

        Jerry must be rolling in his grave.

        1. ya I said on the other thread Jerry would smack Bobby in the face for the vaccine papers insistence.

    2. Dead & Company (John Mayer and 3 original members of the Grateful Dead) and Phish

      Sign, sign, everywhere a sign…

      1. Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

        I used to like that old hippy song when I was a kid. But as an adult I broke it down in my head one day. In the first verse the sign ‘Long haired freaky people need not apply’ Tucks his hair up and is offered a job. Refuses it.
        Second verse – sign says ‘trespassers shot on sight’ So the hippy becomes irate the owner put up a fence to keep him from enjoying someone else’s property.
        In the last verse the protagonist goes to church, partakes of the service and ‘when they passed along the hat at the end of it all I didn’t have a penny to pay’. So he avails of the service and gives nothing in return at the end.
        Very apropos.
        Here’s the link if anyone wants to share the memory.

    3. Hippies really are trash.

  5. 99% of unvaccinated prisoners will recidivate, and cannot be cured. Only indefinite civil confinement can protect the children!

  6. Some Ohio Judges Are Mandating Vaccinations as a Condition of Probation. That’s an Abuse of Power.

    Great. Now do New York’s “papers, please” policy.

  7. Be Reasonable here. It’s not like anyone saw this kind of thing coming.

    1. Not Shackford. Even though he worked tirelessly with Boeh, Suderman, Binion & co. To make it happen.

  8. I think I know how to stop this vaccine passport nonsense, dead in its tracks.

    Demand anyone who’s attempting to surgically transition their gender to have a vaccine.

    Or demand vaccine proof to vote.

    1. Don’t forget demanding proof to get a driver’s license and registering to vote. Might as well add it in as a requirement to buy a gun or ammo.

  9. Shouldn’t there be a few not-concerned-with-civil-liberties-libertarians hectoring and squawking about there being no individual rights during ‘deadly pandemics?’ And public health and perceived safety precludes freedoms of any and all sorts, sucks to your pointing out the tiny fatality rate, Piggy. Awaiting issuance of talking points?

    1. To even question “public health initiatives” is now to be a domestic terrorist .

  10. As Judges can impose any number of conditions for probation I have no problem with this requirement. The individual may be living with an older relative, may have children they could expose, may get a low wage job where they interact with and expose the public to Covid19. The individual is going back into society and there are some things we do, compromises we make in society.

    1. What if it was you and being told your freedom or a shot? The court systems are going too far.
      What if the shot has something in it that the inmate can’t have?? Too bad, take the shot or stay in jail?? Bs

    2. You’re a democrat shill. So of course you have no problem infringing on people’s constitutional rights. You never did.

    3. Why stop there? How about castration/sterilization? If we are expected to take care of these individuals offspring why can’t we stop them from breeding after all it’s just a compromise we make in society.

      How about lobotomizing/electro shock therapy for homosexuals?

      I’ll pass on the state forcing medical procedures on my fellow man.

  11. What does Reason think about ‘sex workers’ requiring proof of Covid vaccination?

  12. Congrats to Shackleburger for being the only writer at Reason for taking an even vaguely libertarian position on vaccine mandates!

  13. The criminal justice system already sees people as little ATM’s going past on the conveyor belt in their factory, and public health authorities see people as nothing more than walking disease vectors primed to overwhelm their system, so why not combine the two?

  14. Reason is great.

    Force people to be vaccinated to see a show? Yes!
    Force people to be vaccinated to go shopping? Yes!
    Force children to be vaccinated to go to school? Yes!

    Force felons to be vaccinated as a condition of parole? No! This is a free country!

    1. Illegals aren’t being forced to vaccinate. They don’t even keep track of them.

    2. Don’t forget- Forcing people to be vaccinated to travel from Africa to the US – YES!

      1. I thought they were against that?

        1. Freedom for felons and foreigners, totalitarian mandates for everyone else

  15. I don’t have a problem with requiring vaccination for anyone who is currently incarcerated or as a condition of their parole (with an exception for inmates who either have a contraindication to the vaccine or have already had Covid and should be immune).

  16. It bears repeating again: The vaccine is not a hermetic seal. It is merely a tool that your body uses to better fight off the virus. You can still get infected while you have the vaccine. The virus will continue to invade the cells of your body, multiply and spread.

    The vaccine significantly improves your body’s ability to fight that virus. That’s it. You most likely won’t be as sick, and you most likely won’t be sick as long. But if you go to some bar in Provincetown to bump and grind with a bunch of sweaty bodies, and you are infected, you will likely get others infected.

    This needs to be said because these Vaccines (and masks) keep getting sold as magical talismans, rather than a tool. They are becoming religious rituals and when the fail to stop this virus dead, it splits the country into those who think we aren’t faithful enough to our God, and those who think this was all a sham to begin with.

    Instead, the country really ought to get back to basic principles- to focusing on your responsibility to yourself and your family, and making personal decisions that matter most to you, while refraining to make decisions for others you don’t even know.

    1. But that’s not collectivist…

  17. This is a idiotic debate. Many if not most of the conditions for release on probation or parole are completely arbitrary; mandating vaccination at least has a public safety component. Everyone loses their shit if a guy on probation commits another robbery, so why not lose your shit if that same guy kills someone with Covid? If he doesn’t like it he can keep sitting in jail, just as he would if he doesn’t agree to stay sober (which also has nothing to do with crime).

  18. Yes much better to let drug addicts take responsibility for their own health and those of others.

    More libertarian idiocy.

    1. When I delivered pizzas at SMU my redneck conservative boss tried to indoctrinate me with Readings from the John Birch Society Newsletter. Special scorn was reserved for libertarian songwriter Country Joe MacDonald. “Be the first one on your block to have your boy come home in a box” was scorned as “libertarian idiocy” in 1969. Today’s ignorant conservatives still seek to conscript someone else to be killed in superstitious satrapies half a planet from home–instead of they themselves volunteering.

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  20. Huh? Our own monkey trial Eugenic Supreme Court ruled that forced castration was fine and dandy for parolees. Has something changed since 1927?

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