I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s not me–it’s the news. Not only are the San Francisco Sheriff Department’s employees threatening resignation over the vaccine mandates, but CCPOA, possibly the most bad-faith actor in the whole COVID-19 prison crisis, is now fighting the state vaccine mandate in Sacramento. The UCLA COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project summarized this problem in a data-rich blog post, and the danger is plain and evident from this modeling piece in the Lancet. I’ve already spent considerable time discussing this here and here among many other places. My newest take on this is on KCBS. My position on this can be summarized in seven points:

  1. Adopting exactly the opposite position than the one they should on vaccination is part and parcel of the pandemic approach of custodial staff and their approach stinks from the top. It harmonizes with their failure to mask, mockery of the residents’ fears, and disgusting fomentation of fear and disinformation.
  2. The problem is dual: CCPOA’s political capture as well as the COVID denialism of the rank and file. We can only speculate about Trumpism among the ranks based on what we know from other law enforcement agencies.
  3. As the dismaying San Francisco story demonstrates, what happens at CDCR mirrors what happens in the counties, where things are even worse b/c the incarcerated incarcerated population’s vaccine rates are considerably lower than in state prisons (a more transient and considerably younger group).
  4. Neither the governor’s office nor the courts have done enough to bring about acceptable staff vaccination rates, and have instead focused their energy on giving bonuses, consulting with gentle persuasion experts, and lavishly complimenting CCPOA for even deigning to show their faces in federal courts. Our executive and judicial branches must share in this shame.
  5. Take it from my colleague, Dorit Reiss, who specializes in vaccine law: There is no valid legal or constitutional argument correctional officers can lob against the vaccine mandate. CCPOA and the Sheriff’s Department have not got a leg to stand on.
  6. Anyone unwilling to do their part to prevent a medical catastrophe among the people they are in charge of is not a good fit for a custodial job.
  7. Finally, I’ve heard countless variations on the theme of “it’s complicated”, “we have to remunerate/reward them instead”, and “how can we attract people to work for us/avoid dangerous vacancies if we impose a vaccine mandate”: If correctional institutions find it impossible to recruit enough people who can be conscientious about the vaccine, the conclusion to draw is that we should not incarcerate as many people as we do.

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