NOTE: Press Releases are provided to Yellow Scene. In an effort to keep our community informed, we are now publishing some press releases in whole.
By Christie Donner and Terri Hurst
We wanted to give you an update on the urgent situation within the state prison system as a result of COVID-19 and the latest on the Governor’s statewide vaccination plan.
On 12/9/20, the Governor revealed his statewide vaccination plan
and stated that he intends to treat incarcerated people “just like the general public” and only prioritize vaccinating people in prison who are 65 years of age or older or those who are in a high-risk group due to underlying medical conditions. DOC staff would have higher priority, just like other law enforcement.
This is contrary to the recommendation made to the Governor by
Dr. Carlos Franco-Paredes, of one of Colorado’s leading experts in infectious disease at the CU-School of Medicine, who said that all incarcerated people need to be vaccinated as a Phase I priority population to curb the infection inside prisons and prevent the transmission to families and the wider community upon release.
The Governor fails to acknowledge that prisons, jails, and detention centers are incubators of COVID-19 because they are a high-density environment where people cannot socially distance. Vaccinating only those 65+ an older and those with high medical risk will not vaccinate enough people to contain the outbreaks that are happening across most of the prisons.
National data is starting to be released at the chilling reality for incarcerated people and why they shouldn’t be treated “just the same” as the general public with regard to vaccination prioritization.
The situation in Colorado prisons is dire right now.
As of 12/15, of the 14,900 inmates in prison in DOC, over six thousand have tested positive for COVID-19. Over 1,100 people in prison are actively sick and tragically seventeen inmates have died.
The DOC staff has also been infected at high rates and over 1,000 have tested positive and almost 400 are currently on medical leave due. DOC has another 500 vacant positions that they haven’t been able to fill as a result of the pandemic. This staff shortage is at a critical point.
As a way to prevent transmission, DOC created a three level prison operations plan early on in the pandemic. Level III is the most restrictive and involves reducing to minimal staff levels and locking down people mostly in their cells. Because of both the COVID-19 outbreaks and the staff shortages, right now, three-quarters of the entire prison system prisons (17 out of 23 facilities) are on Level III lockdown.