BOP Vaccine Policy: Fact or Fiction?
We heard the BOP was considering drastic steps to their vaccine policy. This is to increase the vaccinations of individuals in the federal prison system. This was reportedly to help reduce the amount of COVID cases. In order to separate fact from fiction, I will break it down.
BOP Vaccine Policy and Covid-19
From the earliest days of the pandemic, our minds and hearts were with the federal prisoner population. The small crowded spaces and frequent movement among guards made it an inevitability that the pandemic would reach inside the walls.
The pandemic has done and will continue to do damage to federal inmates. Tens of thousands of incarcerated persons have become sick. As of this post, over 250 inmates have died from COVID-19 related illnesses.
It was largely believed that the vaccine was the way out of the pandemic. The vaccine became available to incarcerated persons in December of 2020. We reported on this process in February 2021. While over 200,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered, new inmates arrive at federal prison every day. The changing population does not help the BOP carry out the vaccination policy. Additionally, distrust of the vaccine remains high among staff and inmates as misinformation, well-known instances of medical racism and fear of side effects prevent higher vaccination rates.
Over the last few weeks we have received several stories from inmates and their loved ones about being told various things about their prisons and the vaccination rates. Some of them felt unbelievable while others seemed plausible. We reached out to Keri Blakinger at the Marshall Project to help us get to the bottom of two of these stories.
Rumor 1: Is the Bureau of Prisons Planning to Segregate Inmates?
We received the following from a loved one of an inmate a few weeks ago. The document says that FCI Fairton was planning to begin segregating inmates by vaccination status.
The message further indicated that unvaccinated inmates would be placed in a unit with modified operations, limited recreation access, no exercise equipment and socially distanced programming. Inmates would also be unable to engage in work details. Finally it gives inmates the ability to change their mind if they previously refused the vaccine.
A review of FCI Fairton’s website does not indicate this policy is happening The prison does indicate that they are engaged in “level three operations” but nothing indicates the result of which is segregation of inmates.
Blakinger at the Marshall Project reached out to the BOP regarding this report. The BOP responded, indicating they could not vouch for the authenticity of the document referenced. However, [they informed us that] the information contained in the document you have provided to us has not and will not be implemented at FCI Fairton.
When you take a second look at the document it doesn’t look appropriate either. The letterhead doesn’t look appropriate and it is not signed by anyone.The idea of the BOP segregating inmates also doesn’t hold water as this would be an enormous undertaking that would change constantly.
Rumor 2: Is FCC Yazoo City Offering Incentives for Inmates to Vaccinate?
This letter came to us in the mail recently indicating that the staff at FCC Yazoo City were offering incentives if the incarcerated persons reached a vaccination rate of 75%.
Individuals who got vaccinated would receive “one free photo ticket,” whatever that means! Units with 75% of inmates receiving the vaccine could receive an ice cream social, a bingo night, additional recreation time on weekends, and movie nights with popcorn. The only thing missing is a personal pan pizza for reading three books.
Blakinger at the Marshall Project was able to confirm this information was shared from other inmates. The style of the memo makes this look more trustworthy and true. Also, this seems like something that the Bureau of Prisons would absolutely do in order to get people vaccinated.
While the pandemic rages on in the outside world, reports are showing that the Bureau of Prisons may be trying new things in order to fight the virus. While we would rather the BOP engage in a more liberal application of the CARES Act, we welcome incentives over segregation.