Following the ruling of a federal judge to the effect, Oregon will start administering COVID-19 vaccinations to its prison inmates without delay. This ruling classifies prisoners as priority groups ahead of the elderly in the state.
Judge Stacie Beckerman, in her opinion, said the prisoners are particularly susceptible to the spread of the coronavirus, considering their confined space and the inability to observe social distancing. She noted that from the onset, the inmates have been among the group of people that are vulnerable to the devastating impact of the disease. The judge explained that this was especially true considering the rising cases of infections that have emerged from the prisons.
Covid Prison Project, an advocacy group that monitors the number of COVID-19 cases emanating from various prisons across the country, places at over 368,271 the total number of positive coronavirus cases among people incarcerated in prisons. It gives as over 2,250 the number of fatalities so far. In Oregon only, more than 3,400 prisoners have come down with COVID-19, with 40 deaths.
The state of Oregon adopts a classification system that decides which demographic group should be placed on the priority list in administering the limited supply of the vaccine.
According to the judge, the prisoners should be categorized in Phase 1A Group 2. In this category, members include residents and staff of nursing homes, residential homes for the elderly, homes for people that are intellectually and developmentally challenged, and other such similar care facilities. Although staff at the various prisons belong to this group, the prisoners themselves are placed at the lower rung of the ladder.
Judge Beckerman said this was unacceptable and a violation of the fundamental rights of the prisoners. She noted that not even during a crisis should the constitutional rights of an individual be withheld. Beckerman said it was the duty of every institution to uphold the constitutional rights of the hapless. She said it was the duty of those at the helm of affairs to protect the interests of those behind bars.
Judge Beckerman’s order would only be relevant to those in the state’s prison system. Earlier on, a civil rights group, the Oregon Justice Resource Center, had brought a lawsuit against Gov. Kate Brown and the state’s correctional department on behalf of seven prisoners.
Reacting to the judge’s ruling, the group confirmed that it presented a great relief to both the inmates and their families, who were worried about losing their loved ones to the scourge of the pandemic. Gov. Brown said the state would hasten the vaccination of inmates in compliance with the judge’s ruling. The governor’s office stated that the court’s ruling was clear enough, and it had decided not to launch an appeal.