Newsom, guards contest vaccination warrants in prisons



With COVID-19 vaccine mandates growing across California, law enforcement opponents are warning their ranks would rather resign or retire than get vaccinated.

And state prison guards and staff have an unusual ally: Governor Gavin Newsom, who has otherwise been a vaccine champion.

Newsom joined the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to appeal a vaccination order for all prison employees. They are asking that a September ruling by U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar be put on hold pending appeals, saying if implemented, many correctional officers will quit their jobs rather than undergo a vaccine. COVID-19.

This exodus, according to them, would plunge the 34 state prisons, which house some 99,000 detainees, into a crisis, in particular creating situations that could leave detainees locked in their cells for much of the day.

The arguments mirror those of Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who said last week that the county’s vaccination mandate would trigger a “mass exodus” of lawmakers.

“I have repeatedly said the dangers to public safety when 20-30% of my workforce is no longer available to provide services, and these dangers are quickly becoming a reality,” Villanueva said in a statement he said. posted on social media last week. . “We are seeing an increase in unplanned retirements, workers’ compensation claims, employee resignations and a reduction in the number of qualified applicants.”

Of California’s 28,248 correctional officers, just over 51 percent are fully immunized, as are about 64 percent of the 66,480 prison staff, according to state data.

That leaves thousands of people facing the repercussions of the vaccination warrant, Newsom lawyers and correctional officials have argued in court documents. They called for an alternative testing requirement for those who do not wish to be vaccinated. Religious exemptions already exist.

Connie Gipson, director of adult institutions at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in court documents that when a similar vaccine warrant was issued in Washington, about 4.5% of the state’s prison staff resigned. . Although Washington was able to continue its largely unhindered prison operations, Gipson said the level of resignation in California would have a “serious” impact.

State lawyers cited two medical prisons as likely barometers of the vaccination mandate among all prison staff. At the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, 10.14% of staff had not complied with vaccine requirements as of Oct. 25, and 8.26% of staff at the California Health Care Facility in Stockton, according to court documents. All staff were to be vaccinated by October 14, following orders from the California Department of Public Health.

“If the vaccination warrant order is implemented, there is a serious risk that a substantial number of highly experienced and skilled correctional officers who are currently eligible for retirement benefits will simply choose to retire rather than retire. get vaccinated, ”the lawyers said.

There are 1,898 officers who have over 20 years of service and can retire whenever they want, attorneys for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said, adding that if these officers left they would be difficult to replace because many fewer cadets apply. and only 24% of those currently enrolled in the academy are vaccinated.

Pleading for the warrant, a federally appointed receiver overseeing medical care in prison said it was the only way to prevent another deadly outbreak like the one that occurred last year at the prison of ‘State of San Quentin, where 28 prisoners and an officer died from COVID-19. J. Clark Kelso and his medical staff say the virus, which they say spreads primarily through prison staff, has infected more than 50,000 inmates and more than 20,000 staff.

Steve Fama, a Prison Law Office attorney representing prisoners in California, said the attempt to block the vaccine’s mandate – and Newsom’s support for it – is political.

“The assertion by the governor and the CDCR that prisons cannot function safely if staff have to be vaccinated seems to me exaggerated,” he said.

Fama said he believed Newsom supported political defenders who fought against his recall. The California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. in July, donated $ 1.75 million to a defense fund fighting Newsom’s recall. The Service Employees International Union, which represents approximately 12,000 prison staff, contributed a combined $ 5.5 million to Newsom’s anti-recall campaign from its various local unions.

There have been more than 240 COVID-related deaths among inmates and 48 among prison staff – 20 of which have occurred in the past three months after vaccines have been available for months, Fama said.

“It’s sad, but the governor did not – on his own – order a vaccination warrant for all prison staff, without an alternative test, even when the best CDCR doctor said it was necessary” , did he declare. “This despite the fact that if COVID were to design their ideal home, they would build a prison.

Newsom’s office pointed out Thursday that California has one of the lowest coronavirus transmission rates in the country and that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has already implemented the state’s vaccine mandate.

“Since the start of this pandemic, the CDCR has put in place stringent COVID security measures, including mandatory masking, bi-weekly testing for staff and early deployment of vaccines for inmates and staff,” said a spokesperson for the governor, adding that 78% of prisoners and 64% of staff have been fully immunized.

Tigar will consider delaying the prison vaccination warrant during a hearing on November 17. The judge had previously sided with failed efforts to block the tenure of Newsom and the Prison Guards Union, which appealed to the 9th Court of Appeal.

“Once the virus enters an institution, it is very difficult to contain, and the dominant route through which it enters a prison is through infected staff,” the judge wrote in his order explaining his reasoning.

Times editor Priscella Vega contributed to this report.


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