May 13, 2021 18:47

Backlash Against Vaccinating Inmates in Some States

A newspaper op-ed argued that Colorado’s coronavirus vaccination plan would wrongly help a man who killed four people before it protected the author’s law-abiding, 78-year-old father. On social media, the accusation that state leaders were coddling convicts like Nathan Dunlap, serving a life term for 1993 slayings at a restaurant, caught fire, with a district attorney calling the state’s vaccination plan “crazy.” The plan, which put inmates ahead of the elderly and those with chronic conditions, came from the state’s medical advisory group — physicians, public health officials and experts in bioethics. Their framework quickly unraveled, the Washington Post reports. Gov. Jared Polis said there was “no way” the limited supply of shots would “go to prisoners before it goes to people who haven’t committed any crime.” A revised plan, released a week later without input from the advisory panel, put prisoners in no particular phase. The shift was a sign that prisons and jails, which disproportionately hold people of color and have reported  virulent virus outbreaks, are creating dilemmas for state leaders.

The episode illustrates how preferences to stop the virus where it is most destructive clash with other values in the world’s incarceration leader. About a dozen states take a approach like Colorado’s, says the Prison Policy Initiative. Some, including New Jersey and Washington, have begun vaccinating inmates. Seven — Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Mexico and Pennsylvania — put inmates after health-care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Plans in half the states suggest inmates will gain access at some point before the general population. “It’s a very stigmatized population” and critics say inmates “must have done something terrible, and they don’t deserve a place in line,’ ” said Matthew Wynia of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado, an advisory panel member.

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