Incarcerated people and corrections staff should be prioritized in COVID-19 vaccination plans

Some states are including correctional facilities in their rollout plans. All states and the BOP should do so - and put incarcerated people near the top of the list.

by Katie Rose Quandt, December 8, 2020

This article has been updated as various states update their vaccination plans. New details have been added for the plans in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. Our most recent update was on January 11.

As the approaching rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine brings hope of an eventual end to the pandemic, it also introduces ethical dilemmas. With various groups of Americans at heightened risk of exposure, and others at increased risk of severe cases, who should be vaccinated first?

By any reasonable standard, incarcerated people should rank high on every state’s priority list. The COVID-19 case rate is four times higher in state and federal prisons than in the general population — and twice as deadly. And despite the danger of close quarters and high rates of preexisting health conditions among incarcerated people, prisons and jails have widely failed to reduce their populations enough to prevent the spread of the virus. Since March, at least 227,333 people incarcerated in state and federal prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 1,671 have died. There have also been at least 56,496 cases and 105 deaths among prison staff.

The federal Bureau of Prisons announced in November that it plans to reserve its early allotments of the vaccinations for staff, not incarcerated people. Curious whether this was indicative of broader policy decisions, we investigated how states are planning to address incarcerated populations and corrections staff in their early rounds of vaccination, which may begin as soon as mid-December. To do so, we looked through all 49 publicly available draft vaccination proposal plans, which states were required to submit this fall using guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). (A complete plan from Minnesota was not available.)

In the draft proposals, states were encouraged to create three-phased plans for vaccine distribution, structured around availability of the vaccine. (Many states further subdivided the three phases into priority tiers, such as Phase 1A and Phase 1B):

  • Phase 1: Potentially Limited COVID-19 Vaccine Doses Available
  • Phase 2: Large Number of Doses Available; Supply Likely to Meet Demand
  • Phase 3: Likely Sufficient Supply

Which vaccination phase each state assigned to incarcerated people and corrections staff

Incarcerated People Corrections Staff
Specifically listed in Phase 1 (or a Phase 1 subdivision) 8 states:
Conn., Del., Ill., Mass., Md., Neb., N.M., Pa.
15 states:
Ark., Conn., Del., Ill., La., Maine, Mass., Md., Mo., Neb., Nev., N.M., N.C., Pa., W.Va.
Not specifically listed, but from the context might belong to Phase 1 No states 10 states:
Ala., Ariz., Calif., Idaho, Iowa, Mont., N.J., N.D., S.C., Va.
Specifically listed in Phase 1 or Phase 2, depending on age and comorbidities 1 state:
N.C.
No states
Plan was unclear, but from the context likely belong to Phase 1 or Phase 2 2 states:1
Calif., Ky.
2 states:
Ky., Wyo.
Specifically listed in Phase 2 19 states:
Ala., Ariz., Ga., Idaho, Ind., Iowa, Kan., La., Maine, Miss., N.H., N.D., Ohio, Okla., R.I., Tenn., Utah, Vt., Wash.
13 states:
Colo., Ga., Ind., Kan., Miss., N.H., Ohio, Okla., R.I., Tenn., Utah, Vt., Wash.
Not specifically listed, but from the context might belong to Phase 2 4 states:
N.J., Va., W.Va., Wyo.
No states
Not specifically listed, but might belong to Phase 3 (Note: Phase 3 also includes all general populations) 1 state:
Mo.
No states
Difficult to categorize (because the state did not follow the CDC’s 3 Phases) 4 states:2
Hawaii, Mont., Nev., N.Y.
2 states:3
Hawaii, N.Y.
Not included in any Phase (neither specifically nor implied through additional context) 10 states:
Alaska, Ark., Colo., Fla., Mich., Ore., S.C., S.D., Texas, Wisc.
7 states:
Alaska, Fla., Mich., Ore., S.D., Texas., Wisc.

We examined 49 state vaccine distribution proposals to see how the states directly or indirectly mentioned incarcerated people and corrections staff. For some states, the answer was obvious. Other states were not specific, but used references and terms that we concluded “probably” or “might” have been meant to include incarcerated people or staff. Of course, if our value judgements are incorrect for some of these states, that would mean that the states are not planning to prioritize incarcerated people or staff at all. Readers should use caution in comparing the different phase numbers between states for two reasons: Not all states used the federal government’s suggested three phases, and whether a later phase implies a longer wait for a vaccine is dependent upon how many people are in the earlier phases.4 The most important decision is whether incarcerated people and staff are mentioned at all. For the details from each state and a link to the original plan, see the appendix.

Our most positive finding is that 39 of the 49 states addressed (or seemed to address) incarcerated people as a priority group at all, in the original plans or in later updates. But in many states, correctional staff are prioritized before incarcerated people (staff were also more likely to receive PPE early in the pandemic).

Missouri, for example, placed corrections staff in Phase 1B, while implying incarcerated people would be in Phase 3, which is also when the state plans to vaccinate “every Missourian who qualifies and needs or wants a COVID-19 vaccine.” The Missouri proposal rationalized this plan by pointing to staff as the likely entry point of the virus into facilities, and claiming that the spread can be controlled inside facilities. “Inmates’ confined nature has been amenable to procedural controls to reduce the likelihood of correctional facility outbreaks,” the report states. “As a result, staff now represent the most likely source of a facility outbreak. Vaccination of corrections staff can vastly reduce this source of potential attacks.” The report did not cite any data or other reports supporting these claims. The Missouri Department of Corrections has reported 36 COVID-19 deaths among its incarcerated population since March, as well as four deaths of staff members.

Furthermore, in a New York Times opinion piece, Emily Bazelon argued that the BOP’s similar prioritization of staff over incarcerated people, especially older detainees, “seems dubious, epidemiologically and ethically, without evidence that staff vaccinations would be enough to stop the spread of infection.”


State plans are often unclear and not specific

It is important to note that many of the states were unclear and unspecific in their plans, making it difficult to determine their intent. For example, many states included a CDC-produced graphic that assigns “critical populations” to Phase 2. Some, but not all, of these states provided further explanation as to how they define “critical populations.” For instance, Illinois’ original plan immediately followed the graphic with an explanation of who falls within “critical populations,” specifically listing, “People who are incarcerated/detained in correctional facilities.” We categorized these states as putting incarcerated people in Phase 2, since the intent was clear. (Illinois has since moved incarcerated populations to Phase 1B.)

Other states were somewhat less clear. Virginia, for example, included the CDC chart without any additional context. Elsewhere in the report, however, incarcerated people were included on a list of critical populations. Although it is not completely clear whether this list can be linked directly to Phase 2 on the graphic (“critical populations” is used in varying contexts throughout the reports), this additional attention to incarcerated people led us to categorize these states as “probably” including incarcerated people in Phase 2.

Other states, however, simply included the graphic without further explanation as to what “critical populations” means in their plans. For example, Kansas included the CDC graphic, but did not specifically mention incarcerated populations as part of a priority group anywhere else in the report. Due to our government’s history of medical mistreatment of incarcerated and detained populations, we did not give these states the benefit of the doubt by assuming they intended to include incarcerated people among “critical populations.” However, when states implement their plans, they certainly should include incarcerated populations in the prioritized “critical populations” category. (And in fact, Kansas later updated its plan to include incarcerated people in Phase 2.)

Similarly, some states were unclear on whether they intended to prioritize corrections staff. The same CDC graphic includes “other essential workers” in Phase 1B. Some states specifically interpreted this to include corrections staff. Other states implied this might include corrections staff, by referring to a document from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which provides an extensive list of who may be considered essential workers (that list includes corrections) — but without mentioning corrections workers specifically in their reports (in these cases, we labeled corrections staff as “Maybe Phase 1B”).

The appendix below includes explanations of how we categorized the states that did not explicitly place incarcerated people and staff into phases. Of course, if our judgement calls are incorrect in some instances, we may have listed a state as “maybe” or “probably” including these groups in a phase, when the state did not intend to assign a phase at all.

Another important point to note is that even among states that were specific, some used phrasing like “persons living in correctional facilities.” While we hope these states intend to prioritize those in jails and detention centers, as well as prisons, we cannot be sure — especially since there is a history of locally-operated jails falling through the cracks in state policy. And some states specifically excluded jails, such as New Mexico, which provided this explanation: “Because of the two-dose requirement, it may be difficult to ensure effective vaccination of facilities where people move in and out frequently such as homeless shelters and county adult detention centers. Two doses could be offered to inmates at state prisons and to adult residents at state and county juvenile justice centers.”

States should prioritize vaccinating those in county jails as well as prisons, both because jails can easily become COVID-19 hotspots, and because this is a way to reach large populations who might otherwise be missed.


Recommendations:

  • Incarcerated people and corrections staff should be prioritized for vaccination against COVID-19. States and the BOP should not consider vaccination of staff as sufficient to stop the spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities.
  • Governors and state health officials should resist inevitable pressure to deprioritize incarcerated people. For example, earlier this month, when Colorado Gov. Jared Polis was questioned about his state’s decision to place incarcerated people in Phase 2A, ahead of some other vulnerable groups, he responded: “There’s no way it’s going to go to prisoners before it goes to the people who haven’t committed any crime.” This type of posturing violates the state’s duty to protect the health of people in its care, as well as to slow the spread of the virus in the places where it is poised to spread the fastest.
  • Prisons and jails should decarcerate. Since March, public health and medical officials have warned that the only way to protect incarcerated people (and limit the inevitable spread of the virus out of facilities and back into the community) is by drastically decreasing prison and jail populations. Prisons and jails have largely failed on this front.


Footnotes

  1. California indicated that incarcerated populations may fall in Phase 1. And Kentucky included conflicting charts that implied incarcerated populations would either be in Phase 1B or 2.  ↩

  2. Hawaii placed incarcerated people in Stage 2 of 4; Montana in Tier 3 of 5; Nevada in Tier 2 of 4; and New York implied incarcerated people would be in Phase 2 of 5.
     ↩

  3. Hawaii placed corrections staff in Phase 2 of 4; New York implied they would be in Phase 2 of 5. (Montana and Nevada also did not follow the CDC phases, but Montana implied corrections staff might be in Tier 1 of 5, and Nevada placed them in Tier 1 of 4, so they are included with the Phase 1 states listed earlier, because that is more clearly comparable.)  ↩

  4. For example, Maryland put incarcerated people in Phase 1, but that state’s Phase 1 was quite large, encompassing an estimated 14% of the state population.  ↩


Appendix: State COVID-19 Vaccination Distribution Plans

We examined 49 state vaccine distribution proposals to see how the states directly or indirectly mentioned incarcerated people and corrections staff. For some states, the answer was obvious. Other states were not specific, but used references and terms that we concluded “probably” or “might” have been meant to include incarcerated people or staff. Of course, if our value judgements are incorrect for some of these states, that would mean that the states are not planning to prioritize incarcerated people or staff at all. Readers should use caution in comparing the different phase numbers between states for two reasons: Not all states used the federal government’s suggested three phases, and whether a later phase implies a longer wait for a vaccine is dependent upon how many people are in the earlier phases. The most important decision is whether incarcerated people and staff are mentioned at all.
State Incarcerated people assigned a phase? Language about incarcerated people Corrections staff assigned a phase? Language about staff Source Updates
Alabama Phase 2 Phase 2 states: “ADPH will plan for the critical populations to include homeless, incarcerated, and uninsured persons.” Maybe Phase 1B Corrections staff are not specifically mentioned. Does use the CDC Phased Approach chart, which includes “Other essential workers” in Phase 1-B. Elsewhere, the report refers to CISA guideance on who falls into that category, which incudes corrections. State Plan
Alaska No Incarcerated people are not specifically mentioned. Phase 2 does say: “During this phase the Team will introduce outreach to critical populations and the general public who are able to receive the vaccine.” No Corrections staff are not specifically mentioned. Does state that during Phase 1B, “additional essential workers who have not received the vaccine in Phase 1A may be able to receive it.” State Plan
Arizona Phase 2 “People who are in correctional facilities/incarcerated” are listed in Phase 2. Maybe Phase 1B Corrections staff are not specifically mentioned, although “protective service occupations” do fall under Phase 1B. The report does use the CDC Phased Approach chart, which places “other essential workers” in Phase 1B. And it refers to CISA guideance on who may be considered essential workers, which incudes corrections. It also refers to the governor’s executive order outlining essential services, which also includes corrections. State Plan
Arkansas No “Residents of long-term care facilities and other congregate-living facilities” are listed in phase 2. However, since correctional staff are mentioned specifically, we cannot assume this includes incarcerated people. Phase 1B Phase 1B includes “Employees of state correctional facilities” (subsection: “essential workers at increased risk”). State Plan
California Probably Phase 1 or 2 In the phase 1 discussion: “Depending on prioritization guidelines, this phase may also include people in correctional facilities or other congregate living facilities.” This specific mention leads us to believe that if incarcerated populations are not ultimately included in Phase 1, they will be included in Phase 2, which will be used to “ensure vaccine access to all members of Phase 1 critical populations who were not yet vaccinated and also expand our communication efforts to broaden vaccination access to other groups of essential workers and groups at increased risk of COVID-19.” Probably Phase 1B Phase 1 includes “critical infrastructure workforce.” Elsewhere, the report says that critical infrastructure is based on guideance from the CISA list of critical occupations (which includes corrections). In addition, the report mentions that workforce data has been collected on corrections, and specifies that non-healthcare essential workers will fall in Phase 1-B. State Plan
Colorado No In the original plan, Phase 2A included “incarcerated adults.” However, Colorado later released updated guidelines. The new guidelines have fewer subcategories, and people living in congregate living spaces — including incarcerated people — are no longer specifically mentioned in any phase. This, combined with the fact that Gov. Jared Polis has verbally walked back the earlier placement of incarcerated people in Phase 2A, suggests that incarcerated people are no longer assigned to a specific phase. Phase 2 In the original plan, “correctional workers” were included in Phase 1B. However, Colorado later released updated guidelines, which have fewer specifics and fewer subcategories. Corrections workers are no longer mentioned specifically, but they should fall under “Workers serving people that live in high-density settings,” who are now listed in Phase 2. State Plan Updated State Vaccine Information
Connecticut Phase 1B In the original plan, incarcerated people were not specifically mentioned. After the release of the plan, Gov. Ned Lamont indicated that incarcerated people and staff in state prisons — as well as people in other congregate settings — belong to Phase 1B. Phase 1B The original plan was unclear on where corrections staff would belong, but seemed to suggest they would be in Phase 1B. After the release of the plan, Gov. Ned Lamont indicated that incarcerated people and staff in state prisons — as well as people in other congregate settings — belong to Phase 1B. State Plan ACLU of Connecticut Press Release
Delaware Phase 1 (Tier 1C) Phase 1 (Tier 1C) includes “Congregate care (Examples include- prison workers and inmates…).” Phase 1 (Tier 1C) Phase 1 (Tier 1C) includes “Congregate care (Examples include- prison workers and inmates…).” State Plan
Florida No No Corrections staff are not specifically mentioned. The report does say that, “During Phase 1, PODs may be designed to vaccinate first responders, law enforcement officers and essential employees.” It also says the CISA essential worker guidelines will be used in the development of vaccine strategies, but unlike some states, does not suggest that all essential workers will neccessarily be assigned to an early phase. State Plan
Georgia Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “Staff and individuals in jails, prisons, detention centers.” Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “Staff and individuals in jails, prisons, detention centers.” State Plan
Hawaii Stage 2 of 4 Stage 2 includes “People in prisons, jails, detention centers, and similar facilities, and staff who work in such settings.” Stage 2 of 4 Stage 2 includes “People in prisons, jails, detention centers, and similar facilities, and staff who work in such settings.” State Plan
Idaho Phase 2 “Correctional Facilities” are listed as a “Phase 2 organization type.” It also uses the CDC Phased Approach chart, which lists “critical populations” in Phase 2. Elsewhere, a list of critical populations includes “People who are incarcerated/detained in correctional facilities.” Probably Phase 1B Uses the CDC Phased Approach chart, which lists “other essential workers” in Phase 1-B. Elsewhere in the report, a list of “other essential workers” (and estimated counts) includes “Staff of correctional or detention facilities.” This specifically includes employees belonging to both the Idaho Department of Corrections and the Idaho Sheriff’s Association. State Plan
Illinois Phase 1B In the original plan, incarcerated people were included within “critical populations” in Phase 2. In an updated plan from December 31, “sheltered population, homeless/day programs, and inmates” are included within Phase 1B. Phase 1B In the original plan, corrections staff were not specifically mentioned, but it seemed like they might be included in Phase 1B. In an updated plan from December 31, correctional officers are specifically listed under “frontline essential workers” in Phase 1B. State Plan Updated State Vaccine Information
Indiana Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “persons living in correctional facilities.” Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “Corrections, other critical infrastructure workers, other congregate settings.” State Plan
Iowa Phase 2 “Local public health agencies are preparing for the following types of vaccination clinics in Phase 2: … Corrections (jails, prisons or other transitional correctional facilities)” Maybe Phase 1 Phase 1 includes “Non-healthcare worker critical workforce such as agriculture and food processing as well as other key critical infrastructure,” but does not mention corrections specifically. The report links to CISA guideance on who falls into that category, which incudes corrections. State Plan
Kansas Phase 2 In the original plan, Kansas mentioned “individuals living in congregate settings” as a critical population, but did not mention incarcerated people specifically. However, a later update specifically names correctional facilities as part of Phase 2, under “those living or working in licensed congregate settings and other special care or congregate environments where social distancing is not possible.” Phase 2 Corrections staff were not specifically mentioned in the original plan. However, a later update specifically names correctional facilities as part of Phase 2, under “those living or working in licensed congregate settings and other special care or congregate environments where social distancing is not possible.” State Plan Updated State Vaccine Information
Kentucky Either Phase 1B or Phase 2 Unclear. Two different attachments list incarcerated people in two different phases.

“Correctional Facility Residents” are listed in Phase 1B, as a “vulnerable population” in Attachment 4: Projected Vaccination Target Groups. (Rationale: “People who would prevent the risk of spread if vaccinated.”)

But elsewhere in the report (Attachment 3: Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine), “Incarcerated/detained people and staff” are listed as part of Phase 2. This chart notes that this combined population has a High Risk of Acquiring Infection, Medium Risk of Severe Morbidity and Mortality, Low Risk of Negative Societal Impact, and High Risk of Transmitting Infection to Others. “Mitigating Factors for Consideration” says: “Adequate access to personal protective equipment. Effective institutional/workplace management of exposure.”
Either Phase 1B or Phase 2 Unclear. Two different attachments list corrections staff in two different phases.

“Corrections Facilities workers” are listed in Phase 1B, as part of “critical infrastructure in Attachment 4: Projected Vaccination Target Groups. (Rationale: “Essential to public order and safety; Working conditions give them elevated risk of infection; close contact with people at very high risk of poor outcomes.”)

But elsewhere in the report (Attachment 3: Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine), “Incarcerated/detained people and staff” are listed as part of Phase 2. This chart notes that this combined population has a High Risk of Acquiring Infection, Medium Risk of Severe Morbidity and Mortality, Low Risk of Negative Societal Impact, and High Risk of Transmitting Infection to Others. “Mitigating Factors for Consideration” says: “Adequate access to personal protective equipment. Effective institutional/workplace management of exposure.”
State Plan
Louisiana Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “all incarcerated adults in Louisiana.” Phase 1B Phase 1B includes “Corrections Officers and Jailers.” This is further defined as “Includes state corrections officers, as well as parish and local jailers with direct exposure to the inmate/prisoner population.”

The report gives the following Justification: “Corrections officers and jailers are eligible for early vaccination for reasons similar to Congregate Care Facility personnel. They perform a job that is essential for continued societal function and care for a group of citizens who are in close quarters in a congregate setting. While not typically as at risk as their elderly counterparts in Congregate Care Facilities, many prisoners have underlying diseases that put them at increased risk as well. Similar to the rationale for distribution of limited vaccine in the Congregate Care Facility personnel, assuming inadequate supply for all personnel who fall in this category, prioritization based on community positivity rate is recommended, since the goal is to prevent personnel bringing the disease into the facility.”
State Plan
Maine Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “People in prisons, jails, detention centers, and similar facilities, and staff who work in such settings.” Phase 1B In the original plan, Phase 2 included “People in prisons, jails, detention centers, and similar facilities, and staff who work in such settings.” A December 29 update answering “frequently asked questions” specifically lists corrections officers as “frontline essential workers” in Phase 1B. State Plan Updated State Vaccine Information
Maryland Phase 1 Phase 1 includes “People in Prisons, Jails, Detention Centers and Staff” and the subgroup “Incarcerated/Detained Individuals.” Phase 1 Phase 1 includes “People in Prisons, Jails, Detention Centers and Staff” and the subgroup “Correctional Officers, Jailers, Support Staff.” State Plan
Massachusetts Phase 1 In the original plan, incarcerated people were not specifically mentioned. Later, on December 9, Massachusetts issued an update that includes “congregate care settings (including corrections and shelters)” in Phase 1. Phase 1 In the original plan, corrections staff were not specifically mentioned. Later, on December 9, Massachusetts issued an update that includes “congregate care settings (including corrections and shelters)” in Phase 1. The Baker administration indicated this would include staff as well as incarcerated people. State Plan Updated State Vaccine Information
Michigan No “High risk populations, and other critical populations” are listed in Phase 2, but incarcerated populations are not specifically included. No Corrections staff are not specifically mentioned. “Populations considered essential personnel” are listed in Phase 2. It further says: “Different categories of essential personnel have been identified and we continue to add to the list with additional critical infrastructure workers.” However, this list is not attached. State Plan
Mississippi Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “Inmates and Staff” in “Prison and Jails.” Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “Inmates and Staff” in “Prison and Jails.” State Plan
Missouri Probably Phase 3 “People living and working in congregate settings” are included in Phase 2. However, incarcerated populations are not specifically mentioned. And the state does not seem to expect to complete vaccination of incarcerated populations in Phase 2. Phase 3 discussion says: “Local public health authorities and the state health authority will target vaccination efforts toward the most vulnerable populations, such as… local incarcerated individuals…” This appears to mean that Missouri will give special attention to vaccinating incarcerated populations during Phase 3, which is also when the general population will be vaccinated. Phase 1B “Phase 1B includes “First Responders (Examples: non-hospital EMS, Law Enforcement Officers, Fire and Correction personnel).” It includes the following rationale: “Personnel within this category provide essential emergency services that mostly cannot be performed virtually. As a result of these duties, they have unavoidable potential exposures that threaten both their well-being and the community they cannot serve during illness. Accelerated economic recovery and the provision of essential government services require the performance of these duties.

Additionally, inmates’ confined nature has been amenable to procedural controls to reduce the likelihood of correctional facility outbreaks. As a result, staff now represent the most likely source of a facility outbreak. Vaccination of corrections staff can vastly reduce this source of potential attacks.”
State Plan
Montana Tier 3 of 5 “The report outlines five “tiers.” “People at increased risk of acquiring or transmitting Covid-19” belong to Tier 3. Elsewhere in the report, a list of “people at increased risk of aquiring and transmitting Covid-19” includes “People who are incarcerated/detained in correctional facilities.” Maybe Tier 1 of 5 Corrections staff are not specifically mentioned. Of the five tiers, Tier 1 includes “Critical infrastructure workforce,” which cites CISA guideance on who falls into that category, which includes corrections. However, the report specifies that if there is extremely short supply of the vaccine, law enforcement fall at the bottom of Tier 1. State Plan
Nebraska Phase 1B Phase 1-B includes “Incarcerated populations” (under “Vulnerable and Congregate populations”). Phase 1B Phase 1-B includes “Correctional Staff” (under category “Essential Critical Infrastructure workforce”). State Plan
Nevada Tier 2 of 4 In the original plan, “NDOC Inmates” were listed as #2 of 8 in “Tier 3: People at Increased Risk for Severe Illness or of Acquiring/Transmitting COVID-19.” However, an updated plan placed “NDOC Inmates” at the very bottom of “Tier 2: Critical Infrastructure Workforce by Priority Order” (incarcerated people are #15 of 15 in that tier). Tier 1 of 4 In the original plan, “Nevada Department of Corrections Staff” are listed specifically in Tier 1 of 4. (The plan does note, however, that Tier 1 will be vaccinated in priority order, as supply allows, and corrections staff are #9 of 10 on the priority order.) An updated plan issued later keeps NDOC staff in Tier 1: “Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) staff will be invited to closed vaccination events within their community and are included in Tier 1.” State Plan Updated State Vaccine Information
New Hampshire Phase 2 Uses the National Academy of Medicine recommendations, which list “people in prisons, jails, detention centers, and similar facilities, and staff who work in such settings” in Phase 2. Phase 2 Uses the National Academy of Medicine recommendations, which list “people in prisons, jails, detention centers, and similar facilities, and staff who work in such settings” in Phase 2. State Plan
New Jersey Probably Phase 2 “New Jersey intends to follow the CDC Phased Approach framework.” This framework includes “critical populations” in Phase 2. Elsewhere in the report, “Adults detained in correctional facilities or county jails” are included as a “critical population” under “Adults at higher risk for severe COVID-19 due to congregate living and/or working environments.” Probably 1B The report states that “New Jersey intends to follow the CDC Phased Approach framework.” This framework includes “other essential workers” in Phase 1-B, which further includes: “People who play a key role in keeping essential functions of society running and cannot socially distance in the workplace (e.g., emergency and law enforcement personnel not included in Phase 1-A…).” Elsewhere, the report cites CISA guideance on essential workers, which includes corrections. The report indicates that many of these essential workers will in fact be included in Phase 1B, when it estimates the number of “other essential workers,” including those in “Food & agriculture, transportation, education, energy, water, law enforcement, government, etc.” State Plan
New Mexico “Later Phase 1” (following Phase 1B) “Later Phase 1” targets include “Residents of other congregate care settings, prioritizing those with risk factors if doses remain limited.” It further species that this includes prisons but not jails: “Because of the two-dose requirement, it may be difficult to ensure effective vaccination of facilities where people move in and out frequently such as homeless shelters and county adult detention centers. Two doses could be offered to inmates at state prisons and to adult residents at state and county juvenile justice centers.” Phase 1B Phase 1B includes “correctional and juvenile justice healthcare providers and staff.” State Plan
New York Probably Phase 2 of 5 A chart outlining five phases includes in Phase 2, “those living in other congregate settings.” It does not mention incarcerated populations specifically, but the report further directs the reader to an appendix of “priority groups for more information on critical populations,” which does include “People who are incarcerated/detained in correctional facilities.” Probably Phase 2 of 5 A chart outlining five phases includes in Phase 2, “Other essential frontline workers that… retain critical infrastructure.” Elsewhere, “Correction/ Parole/ Probation Officers” are listed in an esstential workers chart, with the rationale, “Correction/ Parole/ Probation officers are important for public safety.” State Plan
North Carolina Phase 1B or Phase 2, depending on age & comorbidities “Incarcerated individuals with 2+ Chronic Conditions or > age 65” are listed in Phase 1B. “Incarcerated individuals without 2+ Chronic Conditions” are listed in Phase 2. Phase 1B Phase 1B specifies “jail/prison staff.” State Plan
North Dakota Phase 2 Phase 2 discussion says: “Additional congregate settings (group homes, corrections) will need to be vaccinated.” Maybe Phase 1 Corrections workers are not specifically assigned to a phase. Vaccinations of staff and residents at correctional facilities are mentioned in the report. And essential workers are referenced within Phase 1, and elsewhere the report refers to CISA guideance as a reference on who is essential (which lists corrections). State Plan
Ohio Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “People and staff in prisons, jails, detention centers.” Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “People and staff in prisons, jails, detention centers.” State Plan
Oklahoma Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “Staff and residents in congregate locations and worksites (including but not limited to homeless shelters, group homes, prisons/jails, and manufacturing facilities with limited social distancing capacity).” Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “Staff and residents in congregate locations and worksites (including but not limited to homeless shelters, group homes, prisons/jails, and manufacturing facilities with limited social distancing capacity).” State Plan
Oregon No Does not specifically mention incarcerated populations. Does use the CDC Phased Approach chart, which includes “critical populations” in Phase 2. No Does not mention corrections workers specifically. Does use the CDC Phased Approach chart, which includes “other essential workers’ in Phase 1-B, but provides no further context on who this includes. State Plan
Pennsylvania Phase 1B Initially, Pennsylvania did not have a plan publicly available. On December 11, the state released a full plan, which includes people in “Correctional Facilities/ Juvenile Justice Facilities” in Phase 1B, among other congregate groups. Phase 1B Initially, Pennsylvania did not have a plan publicly available. On December 11, the state released a full plan, which includes workers in “Correctional facilities/ juvenile justice facilities” as part of the critical workforce in Phase 1B. State Plan
Rhode Island Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “Incarcerated or detained people and facility staff.” Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “Incarcerated or detained people and facility staff.” State Plan
South Carolina No Does not specifically mentione incarcerated people. Does use the CDC Phased Approach chart, which includes “critical populations” in Phase 2. Maybe Phase 1B Does not specifically mention corrections workers. Does use the CDC Phased Approach chart, which includes “other essential workers’ in Phase 1-B, and states that CISA guideance will be used as a reference on who is essential (which lists corrections). State Plan
South Dakota No No Corrections workers seem like they will prioritized, but a phase was not specified. The report states that data will be collected from “Correctional Health and Department of Corrections” as part of the effort to estimate the number of essential workers. State Plan
Tennessee Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “corrections residents and staff.” Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “corrections residents and staff.” State Plan
Texas No No State Plan
Utah Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “staff and inmates located at correctional facilities.” Phase 2 Phase 2 includes “staff and inmates located at correctional facilities.” State Plan
Vermont Phase 2 Uses the National Academy of Medicine chart, which list “people in prisons, jails, detention centers, and similar facilities, and staff who work in such settings” in Phase 2. Phase 2 Uses the National Academy of Medicine chart, which lists “people in prisons, jails, detention centers, and similar facilities, and staff who work in such settings” in Phase 2. State Plan
Virginia Probably Phase 2 Uses the CDC Phased Approach chart, which includes “critical populations” in phase 2. Elsewhere in the report, “People who are incarcerated/detained in correctional facilities” are included on a list of critical populations. Probably Phase 1B Phase 1-B includes “People who play a key role in keeping essential functions of society running and cannot socially distance in the workplace (e.g., emergency and law enforcement personnel not included in Phase 1-A).” This seems likely to include corrections staff, although they are not listed specifically. It also states that CISA guideance will be used as a reference on who is essential (which lists corrections). State Plan
Washington Phase 2 Uses the National Academy of Medicine chart, which lists “people in prisons, jails, detention centers, and similar facilities, and staff who work in such settings” in Phase 2. Phase 2 Uses the National Academy of Medicine chart, which lists “people in prisons, jails, detention centers, and similar facilities, and staff who work in such settings” in Phase 2. State Plan
West Virginia Probably Phase 2 Uses the CDC Phased Approach chart, which includes “critical populations” in Phase 2. Elsewhere, a list of “additional critical populations” includes “People who are incarcerated/detained in correctional facilities.” Phase 1B In a list of who is in Phase 1B, “correctional staff” is #10. State Plan
Wisconsin No No State Plan
Wyoming Probably Phase 2 The report states that “Phase 2 critical populations may include those in congregate settings.” Elsewhere in the report, “Correctional facility inmates” are included on a list of “People at increased risk of acquiring or transmitting COVID-19.” Phase 1B or Phase 2 The report states that “Phase 1b critical populations may include…essential workers.” However, it seems some workers will be in Phase 2: “Phase 2 critical populations may include additional critical workers.” Elsewhere, personnel of correctional facilities are specifically listed as “critical infrastructure workforce.” State Plan

Katie Rose Quandt is a Senior Editor at the Prison Policy Initiative. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)

9 responses:

  1. Charles D Lee, MD says:

    I have been a very strong advocate for early COVID-19 vaccination for those Incarcerated, having provided both oral & written comments to both ACIP and NASEM. The American Medical Association passed a resolution #404, which I co-authored, supporting this. The American College of Correctional Physicians strongly supports early vaccination for those incarcerated and all correctional workers. Despite this, some states are taking it upon themselves to ignore those recommendations and not allow those living and working in correctional facilities receive the needed vaccine they, not only deserve, but Constitutionally should receive. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do, other than to have a loud outcry at this injustice. Thanks to the Prison Policy Initiative for addressing this and bringing it to light.

  2. Elodie says:

    Hi there! And thank you for all you do.

    I just wanted to let you know that as of today 12/15/2020, you’re not showing the latest version of the Nevada Vaccination Program. It got updated on 12/1/2020 and now our incarcerated population is in Tier 2 of 4 for vaccination (rank 15 of 15 on the priority order). Correctional officers are still in Tier 1 of 4 (rank 9 of 12). You can find the new plan here: https://nvhealthresponse.nv.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/NEVADA-COVID-19-VACCINE-PLAYBOOK-VERSION-2.0.pdf

    1. Hi Elodie,

      Thank you for letting us know! We’ll update our article (we’re continuing to update the piece as more plans get updated).

  3. Barbara Beltrand says:

    I do not see Minnesota listed. Can this article be updated?

    1. Hi Barbara,

      So far we’re not aware of a plan from Minnesota that has been made publicly available. If you know of one, we’d be grateful if you let us know!

  4. Kimberly says:

    FYI Maine has updated its phases, corrections officers are now in phase 1b under frontline essential workers see pg 10. https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/airborne/documents/frequently-asked-questions.pdf

    1. Thanks for letting us know!

  5. Ernest says:

    I found your article after learning I would receive the covid vaccine after incarcerated individuals. I wanted to do research with hopes to help me understand more about the subject and why this choice was made by policy makers. However, I feel that it is an injustice and immoral that criminals, killers, rapist, thieves, con men, drug dealers and others are going to receive the vaccine before me. I have followed the rules and tried to add to society by making it a better place, not detracted from it. I feel a lot of incarcerated individuals have made choices that have put them at higher risk, it is their own fault, while I am still at risk by not fault of my own. I have found little to no evidence to change my mind, this article only states that they are at higher risk, due to their close quarters. They are also at higher risk of rape and getting shanked, which again is due to their life choices. I am not trying to say they are not human and I apologize if I am denigrating a portion of society. To me it boils down to, bad choices made and those choices should not make them more safe than people who have not tried to steal from or harm their fellow man or woman. My hope is to start a debate and understand, not start a fight.

    1. Hi Ernest,

      Our position on this is that:

      1. People at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19 should get the vaccine first, and many incarcerated people (including the elderly and those with preexisting conditions) are at the highest risk.
      2. If we made the vaccine contingent on someone’s good behavior, many high-risk individuals both inside and outside prisons would get the virus and die, which is an unfair punishment for anything they might have done.
      3. Vaccinating incarcerated people early has a larger public safety benefit, in that it stops outbreaks of the virus behind bars, which have already caused hundreds of thousands of cases of COVID-19 both inside and outside prisons (see https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/covidspread.html).

      We can’t have a debate in the comments, but hopefully our position on this is persuasive to you.



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