On Monday, New York State Supreme Court Judge Alison Y. Tuitt ruled that all people in state-run prisons and jails must be made immediately eligible for vaccinations, describing the decision to leave inmates out of the public-health campaign as “unfair and unjust” and an “abuse of discretion.”
While other New Yorkers living in crowded facilities, such as group homes and shelters, were able to get vaccinated in the first tier of eligibility, public defenders sued the state in early February to ensure shot access for inmates. At the time, New York had authorized correction officers for vaccinations, but not prisoners, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines encouraging simultaneous shot access for inmates and prison workers. (Hours after the class-action lawsuit was filed, the state announced it would begin vaccinating inmates over 65 years old.) Judge Tuitt’s ruling on Monday was in response to the February lawsuit filed in the Bronx. In it, she wrote that state officials “irrationally distinguished between incarcerated people and people living in every other type of adult congregate facility, at great risk to incarcerated people’s lives during this pandemic.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has reported 6,273 COVID-19 cases among inmates and 4,925 cases among corrections officers, as well as 35 inmate deaths and eight staff deaths. Around 50,000 people are incarcerated in New York correctional facilities, according to the New York Times.
Many states in the nation, including Florida, have not yet made those incarcerated in state prisons eligible for a vaccine, while others, like New Jersey, began giving shots to the incarcerated as early as possible, as the CDC recommended. In February, in Oregon, a federal court judge ordered state-run prisons to offer vaccinations to all inmates in a decision similar to Tuitt’s.
Already, more than 2,500 prisoners with eligible conditions have received their first dose of the vaccine, while about three-quarters of New York’s 1,066 inmates over 65 have agreed to get inoculated — which mirrors national polling suggesting one in four Americans will refuse to get a shot.