Prisoner advocates want state to require Michigan corrections officers to get COVID vaccine

Prisoners have higher vaccination rate than public
Posted at 9:01 AM, Aug 19, 2021

LANSING, Mich. — Since the start of the pandemic, prisoners rights advocates have called for the release of some inmates because of high COVID-19 rates in Michigan prisons.

Now that a vaccine has been rolled out, about 67 percent of the state's inmates have been vaccinated, more than the rest of the state.

But for the corrections officers who guard them aren't required them to get the vaccinate, and, while the state tracks vaccinations among its employees, it doesn't release those numbers to the public.

Some critics think corrections officers should have to get vaccinated in order to protect the vulnerable population behind bars.

“We need to be doing whatever it takes to save lives behind bars right now. As people have pointed out, prisons are dangerous places because they are cramped and because they are often unsanitary. Because you have staff going in and out every single day,” said Wanda Bertram of the Prison Policy Initiative.

Marvin Cotton Junior spent nearly 20 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. He was exonerated and released 10 months ago during the height of the pandemic.

Cotton says he gets calls every day from inmates concerned about being exposed to the virus.

“They keep the prisoners apart, but the staff is allowed to congregate and conduct themselves however they want. When they do cell shakedowns and prisoner shakedowns which are searches, they don’t change their gloves,” said Cotton.

FOX 47 News reached out to the union representing six thousand state correctional officers to find out if they believed COVID vaccines should be mandatory for their membership.

SEIU-MCO President Byron Osborn says the union believes whether or not to get vaccinated should remain a personal choice for each employee.

A Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson said in an email, “Our employees, like all state of Michigan employees, when they log into their computer each day they come to the office, have to indicate their vaccine status and that information is available to their immediate supervisor."

But the state "is not permitted to release information about how many state employees are vaccinated as that information is considered employer data and governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the statement said.