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Activists fighting for inmates to get COVID-19 vaccine

Activists fighting for inmates to get COVID-19 vaccine (WICS){p}{/p}
Activists fighting for inmates to get COVID-19 vaccine (WICS)

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Illinois prison activists want inmates to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

A total of 61 inmates behind bars at Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) facilities have died from the coronavirus in 2020, with 16 coming in December, now tied with November for the deadliest month this year.

As of now, the prison population is not included in the 1A, 1B, or 1C vaccine recommendation levels.

Some activists are now saying that prisons should be considered at the same level as long-term care facilities.

According to the latest numbers from the Marshall Project, the spread of COVID-19 among prisoners in IDOC facilities is 134% higher than the normal population.

"There is no living situation more congregate, more dense, more dangerous during COVID-19 than prisons,” said Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the Illinois prison watchdog group The John Howard Association.

IDOC officers will be vaccinated as part of the 1B group that will start in a few weeks.

But Jennifer Soble, executive director at the Illinois Prison Project, said vaccinating them and not the inmates doesn’t make much sense.

"If the state of Illinois is going to beat the COVID virus, it is absolutely imperative that we vaccinate and the correctional officers that come into the prisons every day,” Soble said.

Over the last month, the COVID-19 case numbers for Illinois have declined, but the numbers in IDOC facilities have continued to climb.

"People who are incarcerated should be prioritized for the vaccine because they live in such a dangerous environment,” Vollen-Katz said.

Soble said what happens inside the walls of the prison directly affects the communities outside.

"Until we get the virus completely under control under the incarcerate setting, communities remain at grave risk from spread,” Soble said.

According to new numbers from IDOC, approximately 25%, or one out of every four offenders, have or have had COVID-19.

"You know, this isn't them versus us; this is a we,” Vollen Katz said. “We have got to make sure that a sentence for a few years for a burglary doesn’t turn into a death sentence."

In a statement from the Governor’s Office Wednesday, they said they will follow the vaccine recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which puts correctional officers in 1B and inmates at TBD.

Along with the 61 deaths among inmates, there has also been one IDOC staff member that has died from the virus.

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