Editorial: Vaccinations could curb prison cases

The Editorial Advisory Board
Topeka Capital-Journal

We need to vaccinate our state’s incarcerated population and corrections staffers for the coronavirus early in the process.

It’s the right thing to do. It’s the moral thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do for public health.

The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Andrew Bahl reported on Dec. 6 that Kansas Department of Corrections said it is awaiting a verdict from the state Department of Health and Environment in the coming weeks as to where these groups will fall in the vaccine hierarchy.

“The fear is that inmates will be out of sight and out of mind as the state and country roll out their vaccination effort,” Bahl writes.

Bahl reported COVID-19 has been a persistent problem in the state’s prisons and jails throughout most of the pandemic. An outbreak at Lansing Correctional Facility even drew national attention. Additionally, since the start of the pandemic, almost 6,000 inmates and staff members have tested positive for the virus. Eleven inmates and three staff members have died because of COVID-19.

It goes without saying the prison system was not designed for social distancing. That is part of the reason it has spread so rapidly within the KDOC system. Members of the general public are at an advantage in this instance because we can socially distance. Those in the prison system cannot.

We need to take care of these Kansans and make it a priority. If not, we could potentially be signing death warrants for the older and at-risk prisoners and prison workers.

We know prison staffing has seen a problem as a result of the pandemic. We believe early vaccination could also help with that problem.

Bahl reported corrections staff have born the brunt of COVID-19. Accessing personal protective equipment remains difficult at some facilities and the rising number of cases among staff members means that personnel shortages are hitting a critical stage. Additionally low staffing has put safety at risk. We believe vaccination could curb this.

In addition, the spread of COVID-19 in our prisons means the spread of COVID-19 in the rest of our communities. Prison staff members exposed at work go on to expose members of their families and other people they come into contact with.

So here’s the brass tacks: Gov. Laura Kelly, KDHE Secretary Lee Norman, KDOC Secretary Jeff Zmuda need to make it possible for the inmates and employees in our prisons to get that shot sooner rather than later.

We understand there’s likely a pecking order for who should get vaccinated. We also acknowledge this may not be an easy sell in the court of public opinion, but we know in our hearts this is the right thing to do.

We’re not saying they need to be first, but certainly not last either. To not do so would be cruel and unusual punishment. That’s frankly unacceptable in Kansas.