Once again, Oklahoma public officials are ignoring the needs of people who are incarcerated. The state with one of the highest incarceration rates in the world still refuses to vaccinate the population of men and women in Oklahoma’s jails and prisons, despite moving to Phase 3 of the vaccine distribution rollout plan.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections website originally estimated that those under its care would receive the vaccine in an earlier phase, although the info has not been updated in nearly a year. A recent article noted the plan was to provide the vaccine to all prison officials and those who are incarcerated by February 2021.
While Phase 3 eligibility, as described by Oklahoma Governor Stitt, includes prison officials and other “essential workers” — it leaves out the thousands of men and women living in close quarters, often without access to basic hygiene items. Currently there are approximately 20,000 people who are incarcerated in Oklahoma.
The exclusion of people who are incarcerated from phase 3 eligibility prompted a response from the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). According to Nicole McAfee, Director of Policy and Advocacy, “The ACLU of Oklahoma has urged Governor Stitt and policy makers to consider the impact of COVID-19 in our prisons and jails. We have stressed the potential massive loss of life and the impact on surrounding communities if people incarcerated were not made a priority during vaccine rollout.”
The Oklahoma ACLU press release continues: “The Oklahoma Department of Health is now expanding phasing access beyond people incarcerated. This comes without any distribution of vaccines to the tens of thousands of Oklahomans held in prisons and jails across the state. Our government must make every effort to protect the rights of people experiencing illness or at risk of illness. Especially during a public health emergency. This includes jails, prisons, and other detention facilities in the state. These facilities face barriers that often have large numbers of people who are especially vulnerable to the virus. State and county health departments should be transparent in their distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and prioritize those currently incarcerated.”
The Black Wall St Times looks forward to updating this story as incarcerated people become eligible for the Covid19 vaccine.