State officials have urged a federal judge to order all California prison guards to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We do really have a problem of continuing major outbreaks,” said J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed medical receiver in charge of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
Kelso told U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar the virus has been spread repeatedly from staff to the incarcerated, the Los Angeles Times reported Sept. 25.
The prison guards union opposed mandatory inoculation, warning it could lead to a staff shortage by vaccination opponents.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office released a statement saying the governor “led California to the lowest transmission rate and highest vaccinations in the nation by following scientific consensus and public health guidelines.” But he recently opposed mandates for prison staff.
The statement added, “Additionally, California also led the nation in providing early access to vaccines for incarcerated people. Currently, 76% of the incarcerated population has been fully vaccinated, with 56% of staff vaccinated and another 4% having received at least one dose.”
Prison guards attorney Gregg Adam argued the state was not indifferent to the pandemic and had offered vaccines to 99% of the incarcerated population — although almost a quarter of them refused.
Kelso said he believed the spread of COVID-19 mostly came from prison staff — causing more than 50,000 inmate infections and over 20,000 employees to test positive.
He reported COVID-19 infections resulted in 240 incarcerated deaths statewide and 39 staff deaths as of late September.
Don Spector, of the Prison Law Office, is one of the lead attorneys representing prisoners in a law suit against the state for overcrowding. He said, “The guards are mostly the source of infection.”
Spector also said the guards and other unions have considerable influence on the prisons.
In July 2021, the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. donated $1.75 million to Newsom’s recall defense fund.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents about 12,000 prison staff, contributed $5.5 million toward Newsom’s anti-recall campaign.
Some 1,607 prison employees tested positive for the virus in August.