Many New York residents received their COVID-19 vaccinations. However, the delta variant of the coronavirus is tearing its way through the state and the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies consistently release information on infection and vaccination rates in the general population.
However, one major cause for concern is the transparency of the vaccination rates in NY prisons. Here, the likelihood of virus transmission is high. Current data and vaccination rates aren’t enough. The public should have better and more complete information about incarcerated individuals and those who work in the prison system.
Current New York Policy Regarding Vaccinations in Prisons
When the COVID-19 vaccine became available in early 2021, those who work within the prison system and the imprisoned were eligible for the vaccine. Prisons are breeding grounds for COVID-19 and could quickly become super spreaders. Such large amounts of unvaccinated people put the entire community at risk.
However, current data on prison vaccinations indicates that less than half of eligible prisoners are immunized. The information released by the state is not transparent enough to ease public concern.
Few Data Points About NY Prison Vaccination Rates
The state prison system has released few data points regarding incarceration vaccination rates in New York.
According to the latest information, “As of July 27, 2021, 14,786 or 46.2% of incarcerated individuals currently in DOCCS correctional facilities, have received the vaccine.” This data is a combined total of just over 15,000 vaccinations within the NY prison system.
Advocacy Groups Demanding Information
According to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, every incarcerated individual has been offered the COVID-19 vaccine. But advocacy groups say this isn’t enough. They demand access to information regarding many COVID-19 and vaccination concerns, including:
- How prisons managed COVID-19
- Current vaccination plans
- Future vaccination plans
- Vaccine education initiatives
- Continued status updates on vaccinations in NY prisons
- Plans for how the DOCCS plans to fight future COVID-19 outbreaks
The Importance of Vaccinations in NY Prisons
Early in the global pandemic, COVID-19 became a serious issue in the NY prison system. With an inability to do much, if any, social distancing, criminal justice advocates began pushing for access to the vaccine.
Lowering Risk of Spreading to Outside Individuals
Vaccination in New York prisons is equally vital to other places in the state. The more prisoners and employees vaccinated, the lower the risk of transmission to visitors, vendors, and other outside individuals.
Incentives to Encourage Vaccination
In the hopes of encouraging incarcerated people to get vaccinated, prison officials have offered incentives such as special meals and care packages. Similar incentive programs have proven effective in prison systems across the country.
As of the writing of this article, across the DOCCS system, there are few reported positive COVID cases. Yet access to specific facilities data could help the public remain safe for the remainder of the pandemic.
Compassionate Release for Vulnerable Prisoners
The continued risk of spreading the virus in prisons has raised the possibility of granting compassionate release to vulnerable prisoners. Federal prison systems have received more than 31,000 requests for compassionate release since COVID struck. Of those petitions, only 36 were approved. Thirty-five people died while waiting for a decision.
Compassionate Release Can Reduce Risk
Compassionate release is the release of vulnerable or terminally ill incarcerated people. Early release for nonviolent offenders could save more lives and reduce the risk of a super spreader.
Unfortunately, the compassionate release program has languished, despite many calls by the New York State Bar Association to reduce the number of incarcerated people.
The DOCCS should release its prison-specific vaccination rates, plans for future outbreaks and consider more compassionate releases. These actions could significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19 throughout New York.