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Appeals court tosses vaccine mandate for California COs

People who work in healthcare settings at prisons will still have to comply with a separate mandate


As of Wednesday, 73% of CDCR staff were fully vaccinated, the department said.

Joseph Prezioso/AFP/TNS

By Eric Licas
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

SAN FRANCISCO — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has halted a mandate that would have required everyone working in California’s prisons to be vaccinated against coronavirus.

A panel of three judges sided with the state’s prison system, the union representing its guards and Gov. Gavin Newsom in striking down the rule on Monday, April 25. It would have made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s over 66,000 employees.

A lower court had ruled that prison officials were failing to provide adequate medical care and potentially endangering inmates by not requiring staff to be vaccinated. All CDCR employees had been ordered to receive the jab by early January, but that plan was put on hold in November.

The appellate judges’ ruling found that the prison system was not acting with “deliberate indifference” and had “taken significant action to address the health risks posed by COVID-19.” Those measures include the use of personal protective equipment, regular testing for unvaccinated staff and making doses readily available for those who do want to get inoculated.

“The department appreciates the court’s ruling and affirmation of the various measures we have taken in mitigating and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including access to vaccines for our staff and incarcerated population,” CDCR spokeswoman Dana Simas wrote in a statement Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, 81 percent of the over 96,000 inmates at state prisons and 73 percent of the staff were fully vaccinated, Simas said.

Attorneys who had fought the mandate said it would have forced guards to receive “an unwanted medical procedure that cannot be reversed” in order to keep their jobs, according to court documents.

People who work in healthcare settings at prisons will still have to comply with a separate mandate affecting all of the state’s medical employees. That order was publicly championed by Newsom. It was also challenged in court by the union representing the state’s prison guards, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, but the injunction requested by the organization was denied in October.

The parties arguing in favor of the mandate cancelled by the appellate court on Monday included Clark Kelso. He is the receiver tasked by the federal government with ensuring an adequate level of care for inmates in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling in 2011 stemming from extreme overcrowding in California’s prisons.

He “does not anticipate any further appeals from the 9th Circuit’s decision,” said Brad Brian, one of the attorneys who litigated in favor of the vaccine requirement.

The deaths of 253 state prisoners had been linked to the coronavirus as of Wednesday, according to the CDCR’s website. The inmate population at the California Institution for Men in Chino has seen the most fatal cases of COVID-19, with 30.

The prison system was heavily criticized in mid-2020, when there were more than 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Chino prison, and nearly 700 inmates were transferred from there to other prisons that were thought to be coronavirus-free.

(c)2022 the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, Calif.)