Monday, November 29, 2021

Newsom, Guards Challenge Prison Vaccination Requirements

With California’s growing mandate of COVID-19 vaccinations, law enforcement opponents have warned that their ranks would rather leave or retire than get themselves vaccinated.

And prison guards and staff alike have an unusual ally: Governor Gavin Newsom, who was otherwise a vaccine advocate.

Newsom joined the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in an appeal against the order to vaccinate all prison staff. They are asking to suspend the September ruling by U.S. District Judge John S. Tigar pending appeals, saying that if implemented, many correctional officers will quit their jobs rather than being vaccinated against COVID-19.

The exodus, they argue, will plunge 34 state prisons, which hold some 99,000 inmates, into crisis, including creating situations in which inmates can remain locked in their cells for most of the day.

The arguments match those of Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who said last week that the introduction of vaccinations in the county would cause a “mass exodus” of deputies.

“I have repeatedly reported threats to public safety where 20% to 30% of my workforce can no longer provide services, and these dangers are quickly becoming a reality,” Villanueva said in a statement posted on social media last week. … “We are seeing an increase in unplanned retirements, employee compensation claims, layoffs and a decline in the number of qualified job seekers.”

Of the 28,248 California correctional staff, just over 51% are fully vaccinated, as are about 64% of the 66,480 staff in all prisons, according to state figures.

This is causing thousands of people to face the consequences of the vaccine, Newsom’s lawyers and corrections officials argued in court documents. They have requested an alternative testing requirement for those who do not want to get vaccinated. Religious exceptions already exist.

Connie Gipson, director of adult facilities for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in court documents that when a similar vaccination mandate was enacted in Washington, about 4.5% of the state’s prison staff quit. Although Washington was able to continue its work in prisons with little or no hindrance, Gipson said resignation in California would have “serious” consequences.

State prosecutors have named two medical prisons as likely barometers of vaccination for all prison staff. At the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, 10.14% of staff did not meet vaccine requirements by October 25, and 8.26% of the staff at the California Medical Facility in Stockton did not. All employees were required to be vaccinated by October 14 in accordance with the order of the California Department of Health.

“If the vaccination order is implemented, there is a serious risk that a significant number of highly skilled and experienced correctional officers who are currently eligible for retirement benefits will simply choose to retire rather than get vaccinated,” the lawyers said.

According to lawyers for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 1,898 officers have worked for over 20 years and can retire whenever they want. and only 24% of those currently enrolled in the academy are vaccinated.

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In defending his mandate, a federal court-appointed prison health oversight officer said it was the only way to prevent a new deadly outbreak like the one that occurred last year at San Quentin State Prison, where 28 inmates died of COVID-19 and one officer. J. Clark Kelso and his medical staff say the virus, which they believe is spreading primarily from prison staff, has infected more than 50,000 inmates and more than 20,000 staff.

Steve Fama, a Prison Law Office attorney representing inmates in California, said the attempt to block vaccinations – and Newsom’s backing for them – was political.

“The assertion of the warden and the CDCR that prisons cannot operate safely if staff are to be vaccinated seems to me to be exaggerated,” he said.

Fama said he believed Newsom supported political advocates who fought against his recall. California Association of World Correctional Officers. in July donated $ 1.75 million to a defense fund that fought against Newsom’s recall. The International Service Workers Union, which represents about 12,000 prison officers, has donated a total of $ 5.5 million to Newsom’s campaign against recall from various local unions.

There have been more than 240 COVID-related deaths among prisoners and 48 deaths among prison staff, Fama said, 20 of which occurred in the past three months after vaccines were available for several months.

“It’s sad, but the governor didn’t voluntarily order all prison staff to be vaccinated without alternative testing, even when the CDCR chief physician said it was necessary,” he said. “This is despite the fact that if COVID had designed its ideal home, it would have built a prison.

Newsom’s office on Thursday indicated that California has one of the lowest rates of coronavirus transmission in the country and that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has already met the state’s vaccination mandate.

“Since the start of this pandemic, CDCR has implemented stringent COVID security measures, including mandatory camouflage, twice-weekly testing for staff, and early introduction of vaccines for prisoners and staff,” said a governor’s spokesman, adding that 78% of prisoners and 64% of staff were fully vaccinated.

Tigar will consider deferring prison vaccinations at a hearing on November 17. The judge previously supported rejected attempts to block Newsom and the union of prison guards’ mandate, which appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Once a virus enters an institution, it is very difficult to contain, and the main route it takes to get to prison is through infected staff,” the judge wrote in his order, explaining his reasoning.

Times staff writer Prissela Vega contributed to this report.

Nation World News Desk
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