Amid prison outbreaks, state vaccine plan has inmates in priority

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — As the first stage of Hawaii’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan began to be rolled out Monday, plans are in the works for stage two.

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Inmates and correctional facility staff are placed in stage two alongside groups like teachers and critical risk workers.

State Senate Public Safety Chair Clarence Nishihara says the public should see prison risk similar to long-term care facilities when it comes to COVID-19.

“I think the public shouldn’t take it as why should the inmates get first dibs ahead persons someone like them,” Senator Nishihara said. “I think you have to look at what the consequences are what happens when they have tested positive.”

Those consequences have been large outbreaks. Halawa Correctional Facility has had 195 positive cases among staff and inmates since Dec. 4.

Monday Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell took prisoner counts out of the tiered system because they were impacting numbers too greatly. Mayor Caldwell had said previously that inmates were included in the count because if hospitalized, they take away from the state’s capacity.

“In terms of moving tier to tier having that removed for prisoners only not for the guards or others who work there because they do go home and they do come into contact with others,” Mayor Caldwell said.

The Department of Public Safety released a statement to KHON2 Monday.

The Department of Public Safety (PSD) is in constant communication with the Department of Health (DOH) and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency as we work on the plan for vaccinating prisoners as well as staff.

PSD wants to thanks the DOH Director Libby Char, Major General Kenneth Hara and their teams for their efforts to prioritize getting this critically important vaccine to our frontline staff who are providing 24/7 law enforcement and correctional operations, and to our high-risk inmate population.

Department of Public Safety

The department added that inmates will not be vaccinated against their will.

“As it is with the general public, everyone, including inmates, has free will to make a choice. Health care staff will do their best to convince them it’s in their best interest to get the vaccine offered to them.” PSD said.

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