The Federal Bureau of Prisons is engaged in the process of administering Covid-19 vaccines. This is a look at what that means for the incarcerated person population. This also has implications for your loved one’s compassionate release case.
The Federal Prison’s Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout
The Associated Press received internal documents from the Bureau of Prisons that indicated that the covid-19 vaccine would be distributed to staff but not current inmates. This was, obviously, met with dismay amongst loved ones of inmates. The Federal Prisons reversed course quickly on this:
Earlier on Tuesday, the agency said the vaccine had been delivered last week to four Bureau of Prisons facilities that had been among some of the hardest hit during the pandemic: the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina; federal medical centers in Carswell and Fort Worth, Texas; and FCI Seagoville, a low-security prison in Texas.
In the same statement, the agency said it initially planned to offer the vaccine to full-time bureau staff members, saying that vaccinating them “protects the staff member, the inmates at the facility, and the community.” The agency said about half of the staff at each of the four facilities had received the vaccine.
But later in the day, Long said that some inmates had also been vaccinated. The agency would not answer questions about how many inmates had been vaccinated, where they were housed or how it determines the criteria for who qualifies as a “high risk” inmate to be vaccinated. It is unclear how many doses of the vaccine have been delivered to the Bureau of Prisons.
The Bureau of Prisons said that the remaining doses sent to the four prisons “were provided to inmates based on priority of need in accordance with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines.”Michael Balsamod, Reversing course, feds say some US inmates get virus vaccine, AP News
Tracking the Progress
The BoP now has a tracker on their coronavirus page that shows how many doses of the covid vaccine have been distributed and how many doses have been administered. The page also has a list of how many inmates and correctional officers have been fully vaccinated at prisons where the vaccine has been administered.
The Federal Prison’s Rollout Plan
The BOP has issued clinical guidance on how the covid vaccine should be administered. At the time of this writing, the January 4, 2021 version is current. The January 4, 2021 version indicates that the BoP is using the Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines. The following priority plan is being implemented by the BoP:
- All staff are to be offered the vaccine first.
- Priority Level 1: Inmates in health service unit job assignments and in certain housing situations
- Priority Level 2: Inmates aged 65 years and older or those of any age meeting one or more of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] criteria for “are at increased risk” for severe illness from SARS-CoV-2
- Priority Level 3: Inmates aged 50 through 64 years or those of any age with certain underlying medical conditions who “might be at increased risk” for severe illness from SARS-CoV-2
- Priority Level 4: All other inmates
After the covid-19 vaccine is administered, federal inmates are monitored for 15 minutes in case of any allergic reactions. In mid-January, the BOP indicated that over 1000 inmates and 1000 staff received both vaccinations.
Anecdotally we have heard from clients, potential clients and their loved ones that the covid-19 vaccine is being offered at many prisons. Several federal inmates have indicated that they have received their first and second shots.
Others have indicated that they have received one shot but not the second. Personnel at the prison complexes indicate they don’t know when the second shot will be available to the inmate population. This is consistent with news that the former administration did not have any vaccine stockpile left.
Still others have indicated that either inmates or staff are reluctant to take the vaccine even though it has been offered to them.
What We Know About COVID-19 Now
We are learning new things about COVID-19 every day. Among the most surprising maybe that receiving the vaccine may not signify the end of the matter. CNN reports that vaccinated individuals should still take precautions including social distancing and mask-wearing. This is because although antibodies may be present in the body, the virus can still be in the nose, making even a vaccinated person a potential asymptomatic spreader of the virus.
In addition, even an efficacy rate in the 90’s still means that a person can become infected with COVID-19.:
Even the best of the currently available vaccines only offer up to 95% protection when you are fully immunized. That means there is a 5% chance you can catch the novel coronavirus at any time.Think that sounds small? Let’s compare that risk to birth control: Pills, patches, vaginal rings and shots are 91% to 96% effective. Yet that translates to nine women becoming pregnant for every 100 women on each of those forms of birth control, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.Sandee LaMotte, I’ve had my Covid-19 vaccine — now what can I safely do? Your questions answered, CNN
Further, the thread of more infectious and potentially more deadly COVID-19 variants looms large. The structural problems behind the BoP’s high infection rates persist. They have not done anything about the lack of masks and the inability to socially distance from one another.
Should My Loved One Take the Covid-19 Vaccine?
We have fielded questions about whether in incarcerated person should take the vaccine. Honestly, this is a question that only the inmate can answer. Every person must answer this question for themselves when the time arrives and the covid-19 vaccine is offered.
The past year has been a nightmare at the intersection of criminal justice systems and public health care. Vaccination is probably the best way for an inmate to be safe from the virus given the lack of adjustments to the structural problems present in the BoP.
I will say that it is good that the Bureau of Prisons did change their protocols so that incarcerated persons could receive the vaccine.
Going Forward: Covid-19 Vaccine Impact on Compassionate Release
We have received many questions about the impact on the vaccine on a compassionate early release case. The real answer is that we just don’t know.
Some judges make their decision on whether covid-19 is an extraordinary and compelling circumstance based on how many cases are currently at a prison. Others have made that decision based on how many cases a prison has had over the course of the pandemic. This is why in my opinion, a personal statement is crucial to these cases. A claimant has to let the court know what is going on at their prison now.
Many incarcerated persons are reaching out to me to say that the numbers that are online at the BoP’s covid-19 webpage are not consistent with their experience at their prison. We know that the Justice Department will respond to these motions with a statement about the BoP’s covid plan, so the personal statement is key to counteracting this discrepancy.
There is also a lot to be said about not just citing medical studies but attaching them to your motion as exhibits. In one of our prior cases where a client was granted compassionate release, the court cited a study from the Lancet that we attached as an exhibit. Attaching these studies as exhibits may provide more potent evidence than a citation.
We know that there is a vaccine that is being distributed even inside the walls of the prison. We don’t know what that ultimately means for each compassionate release case that is pending. Also, we don’t know what it means for the inmate population as a whole. The best thing is to continue to engage in distancing.
Reach out to our office with questions about your specific case. The Law Office of Jeremy Gordon is a team dedicated to supporting you, your loved ones and the pursuit of relief in the criminal justice system.