A Dose of Dignity: Equitable Vaccination Policies for Incarcerated People and Correctional Staff During the COVID-19 Pandemic
95 S. Cal. L. Rev. Postscript 1 (2021)
26 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2021
Date Written: September 10, 2021
Since its emergence in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the lives of millions of Americans. As it so often is during times of crisis, our most vulnerable communities have disproportionately suffered and were overlooked. Among these myriad communities, incarcerated people became a particularly potent symbol of our failure to handle the spread of the virus. In December 2020, a beacon of hope emerged with the introduction of new cutting-edge vaccines which promised to bring the world back to where it was just a year-and-a-half ago. Here again, however, policy and politics have led states to adopt different distribution plans that, broadly speaking, deprioritized incarcerated populations and in some cases correctional staff as well. While vaccinations are now much more widespread, things were dramatically different not too long ago. The first goal of this Essay is to ensure we memorialize how society, once again, failed to protect our incarcerated communities when they needed it the most. To illustrate this, we offer a data-driven analysis of the early state-level policies regarding vaccinations of people who live and work in prisons. Our findings show that vaccination policies tended to systematically ignore or disadvantage incarcerated individuals. We argue that by adopting such policies, states have neglected to comply with their legal obligations, grounded in existing and emerging Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and long-standing ethical responsibilities to proactively vaccinate this population. This is particularly true given that prisons are among the high-risk “congregate settings” that are widely recognized by health experts, and often by the states themselves, as deserving of immediate distribution of vaccines. Based on these obligations, and given recent new virus outbreaks and the realization that some form of COVID-19 is here to stay (and other pandemics may be around the corner), this Essay concludes with recommendations for the future.
Note: Funding: Research for this Article was conducted with support provided to Dr. Hyatt (Drexel University) by Arnold Ventures.
Declaration of Interests: None to declare.
Keywords: Criminal Law, Prisons & Prison Reform, Health, COVID-19
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