Demand Letter Re: Vaccination of People Held in Prisons and Jails
January 27, 2021
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of the State of New York
New York State Capitol Building
Albany, New York 12224
Re: Vaccination of People Held in Prisons and Jails
Dear Governor Cuomo:
As science and experience have both made clear, jails and prisons perpetuate the COVID-19 pandemic, both within prison walls and in the community at large, by creating dangerously unsafe conditions for all who live and work there. Yet as of today, New York has not included incarcerated people among the populations who may be vaccinated during Phase 1b of the vaccination program and has provided no plan whatsoever for when this population will be eligible for vaccination.1 Your refusal to allow state and local health authorities to provide the vaccine to this high risk population recklessly endangers the lives of all New Yorkers by creating hotbeds for viral transmission, but most cynically and cruelly disregards the lives of the predominantly Black and Latinx people who comprise the incarcerated population. It is at best irrational to recognize the need to prioritize people in congregate settings, as your vaccination plan does, but to exclude people living in correctional congregate settings from that priority group. Equity, science and public health all demand that you reverse this dangerous and racist policy, and immediately allow vaccinations of all people held in New York’s jails and prisons.
As you know, a court recently ordered New York State to offer the vaccine to one of the elders incarcerated in New York State prisons, holding that vaccination is part of the State’s “nondiscretionary duty to treat [the] medical needs” of incarcerated people. The People of the State of New York ex rel. Edward MacKenzie v. Tedford et al., 2021 NY Slip Op 21005 [Sup. Ct. Essex County, Jan. 18, 2021]. We expect more courts will see the injustice and harm of New York’s policy and enter similar orders. However, we would achieve justice—and protection from this disease for thousands of people living and working in New York facilities and communities – far more quickly if the vaccination authority came from the Department of Health rather than waiting for the inevitable further orders from the judiciary.
Read the full demand letter here