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Preventing the spread of COVID-19 in prisons

Published: Mar. 8, 2021 at 8:47 AM CST
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(Editor’s note: This story was originally published February 8, 2021 at 10:39 PM CST - Updated February 25 at 3:19 PM on wafb.com)

BATON ROUGE, La. (Great Health Divide) - Preventing the spread of COVID-19 requires social distancing, something that’s hard to do inside prison facilities putting prisoners and officers at a unique risk.

Just within state prison facilities roughly 34 inmates and 6 corrections employees have died from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We would like to keep COVID-19 infection at a minimum within the prison population”, said the Department of Corrections Medical Director Randy Lavespere.

When the vaccine opened to the elderly statewide roughly 85% of Louisiana’s prisoners who fell into that category opted to get their shot, including a handful of elderly state prisoners held in local jail facilities.

“Today there’s about 390 to 400 of those offenders who have received their first shot”, said Dr. Lavespere.

If the threat of COVID-19 isn’t enough to get a vaccine the DOC also added a little incentive with a $5 canteen credit for those who get vaccinated. This is something several states have used in the past to encourage prisoners to get a flu vaccine.

“So, we thought that it would be a good idea for the department to try and do that with the COVID-19 vaccine because for the most part, we understand the more people who get vaccinated the less amount of infection we’re gonna have within the penitentiaries”, said Dr. Lavespere.

Penitentiaries are not isolated from society. The DOC’s medical director points out that if the infection rate within a jail is high, it can increase the risk of exposure to the public when corrections officers leave at the end of the day and re-enter society.

“I think it’s a great idea, they have just as much of a right to get vaccinated and save their lives as anyone else. I don’t think it’s right to say they don’t get that”, said Baton Rouge resident Melisa Dore.

“Inmates are in jail for a reason and uh, it’s not that they’re second-class citizens or that they’re worse than anybody else and I think they need to be taken into consideration in certain things but at this moment with the pandemic, there are so many other priorities that need to be considered”, said Adriana Montes, another Baton Rouge resident.

Great Health Divide is an initiative addressing health disparities in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia funded in part by the Google News Initiative.

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