BRONX, N.Y. (WWNY) - A judge has ruled that New York must begin vaccinating prisoners against COVID-19 immediately.
In her ruling, Justice Alison Tuitt of the Bronx state Supreme Court said that prisoners have been arbitrarily left out of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, while people in other congregate facilities have been given priority.
The ruling is being heralded by prisoner advocates, who’ve complained for months that inmates have largely been ignored when it comes to COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.
“This ruling is an enormous win for incarcerated people, for their families, but also for the communities that surround these facilities,” said New Yorkers United for Justice Executive Director Alexander Horwitz.
He said the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision “has continually ducked responsibility and obfuscated public information – all to avoid exposing their complete unwillingness to test and vaccinate incarcerated New Yorkers.”
He added that the ruling “is a step towards holding DOCCS accountable for their mishandling of the pandemic and long-overdue protections for incarcerated individuals.”
Horwitz said a judge shouldn’t have had to force DOCCS to vaccinate inmates.
“The fact that it has taken a court order, that we have to drag DOCCS into court to do the right thing, not only the moral right thing for people who are confined, but the right thing as far as public health is concerned, that’s the open question,” he said.
Beth Garvey, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s acting counsel, said in a statement Monday evening that with the state opening up vaccination availability to anyone at least 30 years old on Tuesday, “we will expand eligibility to include all incarcerated individuals whether in state or local facilities.”
She noted that DOCCS began vaccinating staff and incarcerated individuals on February 5.
Garvey said, “Our goal all along has been to implement a vaccination program that is fair and equitable, and these changes will help ensure that continues to happen.”
Justice Tuitt said that prioritizing all other congregate living facilities besides prisons was “unfair and unjust,” particularly when it comes to detention facilities for juveniles, who are not at high risk for long term damage from COVID-19 like many adult prisoners are.
But Horwitz says only a small percent of inmates were eligible to receive the shot before the court order. Now, NYUJ’s next step is to keep an eye on the vaccine rollout in the prisons.
“What we have to do now is monitor, watch, and hold to account the implementation of this court order incredibly carefully,” he said.
Officials with New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association declined comment.