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California Prison Staff Must Get COVID Vaccine

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Sonora, CA — A federal judge on Monday ordered that all California prison staff be vaccinated despite objections from the governor and guard’s union.

The only exemptions are for religious or medical reasons. U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar gave the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) two weeks to say how it will comply with his order and to consider other ways to increase the inmate vaccination rate, including a possible mandatory vaccination policy for all prisoners.

Citing that over 50,000 California inmates have been infected and at least 240 have died since the start of the pandemic, Judge Tigar relayed that he is acting because while state officials have taken “many commendable steps,” he says they “refuse to do what the undisputed evidence requires.”

In his decision he wrote, “All agree that a mandatory staff vaccination policy would lower the risk of preventable death and serious medical consequences among incarcerated persons. And no one has identified any remedy that will produce anything close to the same benefit.”

Prison officials pointed out that almost all of the 99,000 inmates in the state have been offered the vaccine and 76% are fully vaccinated along with 57% of employees. There were 218 active inmate infections across the state as of Monday, zero at the Sierra Conservation Center (SCC) in Jamestown. Statewide, there were 357 active employee infections; 39 employees have died, three just this month. The total COVID resolved cases are 1,646 at the Jamestown prison, according to CDCR officials.

Regarding vaccinations at SCC, there are 1,194 employees, 537 have been fully vaccinated and 39 partially, making the fully vaccinated staff rate 45%. The judge’s ruling also applies to inmates having in-person visits or who work outside prisons, including inmate firefighters. There are 3,309 inmates at SCC, including the southern California fire camps, with a total vaccination rate of 70%, according to the CDCR.

Mandatory vaccinations in the state’s prison system have been opposed by the prison guard’s union and Gov. Gavin Newsom. Instead, his administration had ordered vaccinations or testing for all state employees, including correctional employees. The judge’s order does not allow for the frequent testing option. The prison guard’s union is threatening a possible appeal of the mandate. One of those groups is the California Correctional Peace Officers Association that argues if employees refuse to comply with the mandate, it could result in staff shortages.

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