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Star Hogan’s 33-year-old son Terrick is incarcerated at Mount Olive Correctional Complex in Fayette County.
Since the pandemic began, she worried he would contract COVID-19. Thankfully, he hasn’t. But she had concerns when he had to distance in otherwise tight quarters and ration face masks.
“When he initially got his mask, he kept it until it basically fell apart, but he had it for over three months,” Hogan said.
On top of health concerns, Hogan said she hasn’t been able to visit her son in a year. State jails have limited visits because of the virus. The COVID-19 vaccine could make visitation possible again, but that’s not an option right now for inmates in state jails and prisons.
West Virginia recently opened eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to all adults in the state. But one segment of the population has been overlooked. Inmates in state jails and prisons haven’t gotten shots and they don’t know when they will.
Hogan says the state is responsible for inmates safety and well-being. Not giving them an option to get the vaccine is a slap in the face.
“They’re disregarded as if they’re not worthy of the same simple protections that everyone is entitled to,” Hogan said.
More than 10,000 people reside in state prisons and jails facilities. And none of them, regardless of age or health complications have gotten a vaccine.
All state corrections staff have had the option to get a vaccine, though less than half have gotten one so far, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The federal government is vaccinating West Virginians in federal prisons. As of Tuesday, 20 percent of federal inmates had been fully vaccinated, according to data from the Bureau of Federal prisons.
Gov. Jim Justice said at a virtual press briefing Monday that the state hasn’t gotten to inmates yet because he believes those living in correctional settings are less vulnerable.
“[Correctional facilities] surely have been one of the safest, if not the safest place in the whole state,” Justice said.
Of the more than 2,600 people who have died in West Virginia due to COVID-19, only 10 have been state inmates. That means inmates are only slightly less likely to have died from COVID-19 than the general population.
While active COVID-19 cases in jails and prisons remain much lower than that of the general population, congregate settings of any kind are susceptible to outbreaks. Some regional jails have seen outbreaks that ended up spreading to half of their inmates.
Justice said in the coming weeks, or even days, there will be a plan to vaccinate state inmates, and vaccinate them rapidly.
“Those people deserve vaccinations just like we all do, and we are absolutely going to come there and come there very very quickly now,” he said Monday.
Advocates have continued to push the state for a solid plan. In early March, the West Virginia chapter of the NAACP and 13 of other groups wrote a letter to the governor requesting inmates be vaccinated soon.
Two of the groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and Mountain State Justice, recently threatened to sue the state if it didn’t begin vaccinating inmates by April 5. They say it is unconstitutional to deny inmates something that is guaranteed to the general public.