Court blocks coronavirus vaccine mandate for California prisons

Court blocks coronavirus vaccine mandate for California prisons

On November 26, the federal appeals court in San Francisco temporarily blocked the requirement that all California prison workers get vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a religious or medical exemption.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request for a stay of September’s lower court order mandating the requirement, pending an appeal. It also sped up the hearing process by setting a Dec. 13 deadline for opening briefs, rather than allowing the normal three months or so for briefing.

The vaccination requirement was supposed to have taken effect by January 12 but the Ninth Circuit’s stay blocks enforcement until the court hear oral arguments on the challenge in March, when the appeal hearing will be scheduled.

The judge who issued the vaccination mandate followed the recommendation of a court-appointed receiver who was chosen to manage the state prison health care system after a U.S. district judge found that California failed to provide adequate medical care to prisoners back in 2005.

In addition to requiring Coronavirus vaccine shots for prison workers, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar required vaccinations or exemptions for inmates who want in-person visits or who work outside prisons, such as inmate firemen.

The stay “puts both the prison staff and the incarcerated population at greater risk of infection,” complained Don Specter, director of the privately-run Prison Law Office, which represents inmates in a years-long lawsuit over medical conditions in state correctional institutions.

The mandate was opposed in court by the state’s prison agency and Gov. Gavin Newsom, even though his administration previously had ordered vaccinations or testing for all state employees, including correctional employees.

The powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association claimed the mandate could create staff shortages if employees refuse to comply and got fired or suspended as a result. It donated over a million dollars to Governor Newsom to help defeat a campaign to recall him.

California is requiring that students get vaccinated by next year, and wear masks in school this year, even though students are far less at risk from COVID-19 than adults, such as longtime inmates and middle-aged prison guards.  For children, the coronavirus is no more dangerous than the flu, for which vaccination is not required.

California’s greater zeal to vaccinate students than prison workers doesn’t reflect science or risk. It does reflect political power — students don’t make campaign contributions, so they lack the clout of state teachers unions and prison guard unions, who the Governor does not want to antagonize.

Prisoners live in close quarters, and are adults, so it makes far more sense to vaccinate them than young children.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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