ALBANY, N.Y. (WETM) — The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) has begun administering the COVID-19 vaccine to inmates who are 65 years old or older. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa confirmed the start of vaccinations for 1,075 eligible inmates during the governor’s press briefing on Friday.
The governor added that inmates who are “medically frail” will also receive the vaccine, but those inmates who do not fall under the state’s guidelines will not be eligible. On Thursday, the Cuomo Administration announced the new vaccination plan for prisons.
NEWS10’s sister station in Elmira reached out to DOCCS for a specific number of inmates receiving the vaccine in each facility and received the following statement:
“There are 1,075 people who are in the system who are 65 and older, and DOCCS is in the process of preparing to vaccinate that population consistent with statewide guidance for that age group. Vaccines have begun today.”Thomas Mailey
Cuomo said the eligibility criteria within prisons are identical to the criteria for people who are not incarcerated. However, under phase 1b, in specifically designated “congregate settings” like shelters, individuals under 65 are able to get vaccinated. At his press briefing, Cuomo could not answer why prisons were not considered “congregate settings.”
“I don’t know the specific definition of ‘congregate.’ I know, for the prison system, we are doing 65+ and medically frail, which is the same situation for a senior citizen living in an apartment. It’s the same set of rules for both.”Andrew Cuomo
Governor of New York
DeRosa chimed in to say that “It’s a universe of 1,075 people” who are eligible within the prison system, and that vaccinating them would likely be a quick process.
In response, advocates slammed the governor for claiming to not know the meaning of “congregate setting.” Robin DelPiore, a community leader with Center for Community Alternatives, released the following statement:
“As a nurse and the mom of an incarcerated son, I am glad to hear that Governor Cuomo has begun to offer vaccines to elderly incarcerated New Yorkers. However, anyone who has been to a state prison knows that it is undeniably a “congregate setting.” It is disingenuous for the Governor to claim not to know this. It flies contrary to the science and a commitment to public health and racial justice to not offer the vaccine to all incarcerated people. At the same time, New York’s legislature must pass urgently needed reforms to address ongoing death and torture behind bars, including Elder Parole, Fair and Timely Parole, and the HALT Solitary Confinement Act.”
State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Personnel, including correction and parole officers, began receiving the vaccine on January 21. A full list of New York residents eligible for the vaccine can be found on the NY Forward website.
Throughout the pandemic, prisoner rights advocates have called for vaccinations or the mass clemency of older inmates. Others have said that prisons should fall under the congregate living guidelines that nursing homes and long-term care facilities are under.
“Amid a record-high COVID-19 death count in his prison system, Governor Cuomo continues to send a message to incarcerated New Yorkers that their lives don’t matter. People in prison are afflicted by the most grievous health disparities because of systemic racism, poverty, and longstanding policy choices, and, especially in their crowded living conditions, they should be among the first to have access to the vaccine. At the same time, with prison death rates increasing at a record pace, and vaccines spoiling due to the state’s disastrous rollout, we know that the most effective intervention is to release vulnerable people, protect people’s human rights, and reduce the prison population. Anything less would put more lives at risk and run counter to recommendations from public health officials across the nation. We renew our call for Governor Cuomo to grant mass clemency, and for the Legislature to pass Elder Parole, Fair & Timely Parole, and the HALT Solitary Confinement Act.”Center for Community for Community Alternatives, Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, Parole Preparation Project, the #HALTsolitary Campaign, and FWD.us (January 12, 2021)
As of February 4, there have been 5,163 cases of COVID-19 in DOCCS facilities with 31 deaths and 4,554 recoveries. The Elmira Correctional Facility had the largest COVID-19 outbreak with 620 cases, all but seven of which have recovered.