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February 3, 2021

Federal judge in Oregon orders state to vaccinate inmates along with correctional workers

As reported in this local press piece, "A federal judge ordered Oregon officials late Tuesday to immediate offer state prison inmates COVID-19 vaccines."  Here is more about this notable ruling:

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman granted a temporary restraining order as part of a larger case by a group of prison inmates. They’ve criticized the state’s response to the pandemic inside prisons and argue it’s violated the U.S. Constitution. Beckerman’s ruling applies to more than 12,000 inmates who live in one of the state’s 14 prisons. “Defendants shall offer all [Adults in Custody] housed in [Oregon Department of Corrections] facilities, who have not been offered a COVID-19 vaccine, a COVID-19 vaccine,” she wrote....

Gov. Kate Brown is also named in the lawsuit. Brown’s communications director, Charles Boyle, confirmed Wednesday that the state won’t appeal the decision. “The court’s decision is clear,” Boyle said in a written statement. “We will move ahead with a weekly approach that will integrate adults in custody into our Phase 1a distribution plans.”...

Beckerman’s order comes as the Oregon Department of Corrections has struggled to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 3,000 inmates have tested positive for the virus. Of those, 42 people in custody have died; including 20 in January alone. “From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was clear that our country’s prisons were uniquely vulnerable to the transmission and spread of the virus,” Beckerman wrote in her 34-page order. “Oregon prisons have not been spared from this reality, as COVID-19′s toll continues to mount behind bars.”

The full 34-page ruling is available at this link, and the press coverage does not fully highlight the important point that Oregon was prioritizing vaccinations for prison workers but not for people confined to prison.  Here are a few paragraphs from the start of the opinion:

Defendants are aware of the higher risk of COVID-19 exposure and infection to individuals living and working in congregate living facilities, and do not dispute that vaccination is an essential component of protecting against COVID-19 exposure.  For these reasons, defendants Governor Brown and Oregon Health Authority (“OHA”) Director Patrick Allen (“Allen”) have prioritized in Phase 1A of Oregon’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan the vaccination of those living and working in congregate care facilities and those working in correctional settings.  Yet, Governor Brown and Allen have excluded from Phase 1A individuals living in correctional settings.

The Court acknowledges the difficult and unenviable task faced by defendants Allen and Governor Brown: they must determine the order in which Oregon citizens will receive a lifesaving vaccine that is limited in supply during a global pandemic.  The question of which groups of Oregonians should receive priority is best left to the policymakers, and is not the question before this Court.  The narrow question before the Court is whether prioritizing those living and working in congregate care facilities and those working in correctional settings to receive the vaccine, but denying the same priority for those living in correctional settings, demonstrates deliberate indifference to the health and safety of those relying on the state’s care.

Our constitutional rights are not suspended during a crisis.  On the contrary, during difficult times we must remain the most vigilant to protect the constitutional rights of the powerless.  Even when faced with limited resources, the state must fulfill its duty of protecting those in its custody.  See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) (“It is but just that the public be required to care for the prisoner, who cannot, by reason of the deprivation of his liberty, care for himself.”) (quotation marks and citation omitted).  For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that the law and facts clearly favor Plaintiffs’ position, and therefore grants Plaintiffs’ request for preliminary injunctive relief.

February 3, 2021 at 06:20 PM | Permalink


Getting the CV-19 vaccine to prison inmates is a major issue here in Kentucky that the Governor and the Commissioner of Public Health have not wanted to tackle, because it would take vaccine doses away from other deserving people who have not violated the law, such as the elderly older than 60, who are also high risk. They don't want to address the fact that jail and prison inmates are the only people in America who have a Constitutional (as opposed to a statutory) right to medical and healthcare. Since March 2020, 6,729 Kentucky prison inmates have contracted CV-19, for a positive rate of 5,530 inmates out of every 10,000inmates. 4 out of every 7 Kentucky prison inmates have contracted CV-19. 40 Kentucky prison inmates have died, or 30 per 10,000 inmates. 989 Kentucky prison guards have also contacted CV-19 and 5 guards have died from it. Almost 25% of all state and Federal prison inmates in America have already contracted CV-19, so the Government should prioritize getting them the vaccine, even if it is not politically popular with the free world.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Feb 3, 2021 7:17:03 PM

The corrected number for the number of Kentucky prison guards who have contracted CV-19 is 898. Although the press has not yet written about the issue, the Kentucky Department of Corrections has been covering its shortage of guards (due to the number of guards who have contracted CV-19) by drafting probation and parole officers into mandatory overtime to work as prison guards! Indeed, some Kentucky probation and parole officers have previously worked as guards in Kentucky's jails and prisons. Of course, the probation and parole officers are not happy, because of their increased risks of contracting CV-19, while working as prison guards. Ironically, most Kentucky probation and parole officers are now working from home, with laptop computers and cell phones. Only high risk parolees and probationers (including registered sex offenders) still have to report on a monthly basis during the CV-19 era. Most probationers and parolees in Kentucky now only check in with their supervising officers by telephone once a month, and no longer have to pay supervision fees.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Feb 3, 2021 7:27:23 PM

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