By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama prison system, which ranks sixth in the country for COVID-19 deaths, announced Thursday that it will begin vaccinating inmates after previously only making vaccine available to prison officers and staff.
The Alabama Department of Corrections announced that on April 12 it will begin vaccinating inmates who want to receive the vaccine. The prison system estimated that it will initially have 6,000 – 7,000 doses available to begin inoculating inmates. There are more than 17,000 inmates in state prisons.
“As with our staff vaccination plan – we will begin with those facilities that house our most vulnerable inmates. Our intent is to inoculate entire facilities at one time – not focus on particular age groups or demographics,” the prison system wrote in an emailed response.
Alabama ranks sixth in the country for inmate deaths from COVID-19 per 10,000 prisoners, according to data gathered by the Marshall Project and The Associated Press. In Alabama prisons, 63 inmates and 3 staff members have died after contracting COVID-19. Inmates and families have described the difficulty of avoiding the disease because of crowded dorms where inmates cannot socially distance.
Since the pandemic began, 1,600 state inmates and 1,039 prison staff members in Alabama have tested positive for COVID-19, according to state numbers.
The vaccinations will begin at four facilities: the Hamilton Aged and Infirmed Center; the Hamilton Community-Based Facility/Community Work Center; the Limestone Correctional Facility and the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.
The prison system is not requiring inmates or staff to become vaccinated.
Prisoners are prioritized under federal vaccine guidelines, as well as the state vaccine plan that follows those guidelines, because of their increased risk of infection because of congregant living conditions. In many Alabama prison dormitories, inmates live in crowded rows of beds, or bunk beds, with less than a few feet between inmates.
However, the prison system had so far prioritized vaccinations for prison staff, saying they are how the virus enters the systems.
“This strategy is key to mitigating the spread of the disease, as staff are the primary source of COVID-19’s entry into our facilities,” the system wrote in an email.
Inmates at one prison, Bullock Correctional Facility in Union Springs, began being vaccinated this week after the state health department offered 1,400 doses to the prison to ensure the doses did not expire after severe weather caused the cancellations of clinics.
Inmates, families and advocates had expressed concern about the spread of the virus in Alabama’s prison system, which has come under fire for violence and crowding. The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Alabama over prison conditions.
“I am very glad to see that some humanity has touched the governor and the ADOC by them finally allowing people within the prison system to get vaccinated. …. However this does not relieve them at all from the inhumane violent treatment, that the DOJ is suing them about,” the Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, an advocate for inmates said Thursday.