Governor’s stance on vaccinating prisoners unchanged amid new COVID cases

Problem Solvers

DENVER (KDVR) — While Colorado is flattening the curve in COVID-19 cases, state prisons are still seeing a surge.

There have been almost 13,000 people who have tested positive in the correctional system since the beginning of the pandemic. The FOX31 Problem Solvers are continuing to push for answers on whether inmates should get higher priority in the line for vaccines.

A spokesman from Gov. Jared Polis’ office told the Problem Solvers: “The Governor believes it is our moral obligation to prioritize vaccinating seniors and the elderly living in nursing homes, as they are at the greatest risk of death from this virus, and simultaneously to inoculate our frontline healthcare heroes who treat COVID-19 patients in a direct way on a day-to-day basis. If a person is over 65 or has another health condition that puts them at an increased risk, they are prioritized to get the vaccine before the general population.”

As hundreds of positive cases are coming out of state prisons, the governor’s office said his stance has not changed. One lawmaker believes he is making the right call.

People keeping an eye on COVID-19 cases in state prisons said Gov. Polis does not have a clear plan to get inmates vaccinated.

“I think it’s more than disappointing, it’s shameful,” said Denise Maes, ACLU of Colorado Public Policy director. “Ninety-seven percent of the individuals in prison will be released some day, and they were not sentenced to die there. They are doing their time and the governor repealed the death penalty, but on the other hand, he doesn’t seem to care that individuals may die there of this virus. That is certainly not a part of justice.”

Colorado is one of only 11 states in the nation without any specific phase of vaccination for inmates according to the Prison Policy Institute.

Since the Problem Solvers checked in with lawmakers calling for inmate vaccinations last week, more than 300 new positives cases have come out of state prisons; five inmates have died.

Bent and Sterling Correctional Facilities lead the way in active cases in state correctional facilities, with around 200 cases in each prison over the past two to three weeks.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling said the state should focus on workers, not inmates.

“Prison workers need to be moved up the list and vaccinated to protect both the prisoners and the public as they move back and forth. To move the prisoners up the list, I think, is unreasonable,” said the Sterling Republican. “It’s unreasonable, to me, to move prisoners up the list in front of hardworking Colorado citizens trying to take care of their families.”

Under the state’s current plan, prison workers are set to be vaccinated with other frontline workers in Phase 1B. Those advocating for inmate vaccinations would like to see them put back in that phase as well.

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