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Maya Chaudhuri • February 16th, 2021

Vaccine Guide in Prison Legal News

This month, the UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project published an article, “Urgent Need for Vaccine Administration in Prisons, Jails and Detention Centers,” in Prison Legal News (PLN). PLN, published by the Human Rights Defense Center, is a well-known and wide-reaching publication written for incarcerated people, and many of its authors are or have been incarcerated. Since the beginning of the pandemic, PLN has published hundreds of articles on COVID-19 in prisons. As a reliable source of news and information for people living in prisons and jails across the country, it continues to be a critical resource for people who have been increasingly cut off from the outside world due to facility lockdowns and restrictions.

Along with the general public, incarcerated people have a number of concerns about COVID-19 vaccines, including regarding their efficacy, safety, and potential conflict with religious practices. We wrote this article to address these concerns and provide information so that individuals who are living behind bars, and are therefore disproportionately impacted by the virus, can make informed decisions about whether to be vaccinated.

The article also notes that incarcerated populations have historically been subject to unethical experimentation by the scientific community and therefore tend to be justifiably skeptical of health authorities. Given these ongoing legacies of mistreatment, we provide information about the law regarding efforts to mandate vaccination of incarcerated people.

Finally, the article covers the implications of the ongoing vaccine rollout for people who are incarcerated. Despite the disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infection and death among incarcerated people compared to their non-incarcerated peers, state vaccine plans have not consistently prioritized these very populations. Since publication, we have seen a small uptick in the number of states offering vaccines to elderly and medically vulnerable incarcerated people, and, in states such as Louisiana and Indiana, a remarkably high acceptance rate. By and large, however, states are still failing to prioritize incarcerated populations at a level commensurate with the outsized risk that they face. In the article, we reiterate our call for officials to act with urgency to distribute vaccines and finally limit the spread of the coronavirus in correctional facilities.

When incarcerated people are offered the choice to be vaccinated, we hope that our article helps readers make an informed decision about how best to protect themselves and those around them.

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Which State and Federal Carceral Systems Report COVID-19 Data?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project has been collecting COVID-19 data from the online dashboards maintained by correctional agencies nationwide. These agencies vary in what and how much data they publicly report. We’ve created visualizations to highlight the gaps in reporting by state and federal correctional agencies as of February 17, 2021.

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