Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Anti-vax sentiment may be rising among prison staff

Cumulative Covid-19 case rate in prisons, jails and detention centers.
UCLA Law map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

"Health experts had warned that getting sufficient vaccines to prisons would be a logistical challenge. But a new slate of difficulties — from a deadlier Covid-19 variant to anti-vax misinformation — has slowed vaccination rates in prisons, particularly among corrections staff," Eva Herscowitz reports for The Crime Report, a publication of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York

For example, only 22 percent of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections guards were vaccinated as of mid-June. "An April report by the Prison Policy Initiative found a similar trend nationwide: designated a priority group, prison staff have refused the vaccine in vast numbers, leaving entire prison populations — and surrounding communities — at risk," Herscowitz reports. "According to the report, 48 percent of prison staff members nationwide had received at least one dose, although in some states rates remained in the teens."

John Eckenrode, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, told Herscowitz that all demographic groups have some vaccine hesitancy, and said vaccination should be an individual choice. But others, such as a New York corrections officer, say guards are less likely to get vaccinated because they don't want to look weak, and because of misleading right-wing social media posts.

"That rationale aligns with the tactics commentators are deploying on right-wing networks, including Fox News. According to The New York Times, high-profile hosts like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have been spouting a stream of falsehoods — that vaccines are dangerous, people should refuse them and public authorities are inappropriately endorsing inoculation — even as the Delta variant fuels outbreaks," Herscowitz reports.

For the unvaccinated, "the more contagious and now-dominant variant is especially dangerous in prisons, where cramped conditions make social distancing and proper hygiene nearly impossible," Herscowitz reports. That's according to Josh Manson, a researcher at the University of California Los Angeles Law School's COVID Behind Bars Data Project. Covid-19 outbreaks in prisons can hurt the other prisons and surrounding communities as infected officers bring the virus home with them, and transferred prisoners bring it to other facilities.

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