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Groups Criticize Refusal to Vaccinate Incarcerated Mainers in Phase 1B

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While incarcerated people are not included in Phase 1B of the Maine vaccine rollout plan, corrections staff are, along with older Mainers, those with underlying health conditions and front-line essential workers. (Alexander/Adobe Stock)
While incarcerated people are not included in Phase 1B of the Maine vaccine rollout plan, corrections staff are, along with older Mainers, those with underlying health conditions and front-line essential workers. (Alexander/Adobe Stock)
January 21, 2021

AUGUSTA, Maine -- Groups who advocate for the rights of people in prison are criticizing the Mills administration for refusing to include incarcerated Mainers in Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout.

In February, older Mainers and those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes and chronic lung or heart conditions get the vaccine.

But if someone is in prison, even if they're older than 70 or have underlying conditions, they likely won't get the vaccine until the second phase.

Gov. Janet Mills said the logistics aren't feasible.

Joseph Jackson, coordinator for the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, said he's disappointed at the lack of care being shown to Mainers in prison.

"We still have to remember that the people who are incarcerated are still citizens, and they fall into more categories than simply being incarcerated," Jackson implored.

Corrections staff are included in Phase 1B, along with other front-line essential workers such as teachers and school staff, public-transit employees and grocery-store and food-industry workers.

Meagan Sway, policy director for the ACLU of Maine, said the pandemic has hit incarcerated people especially hard.

They're cut off from in-person meetings with their attorneys and visits from family, and they live in close congregate settings where it's impossible to physically distance.

She contented Maine has a constitutional obligation to make reasonable efforts to keep them from being infected.

"Nothing is more reasonable than vaccinating the most vulnerable populations wherever they are, whether inside or outside of prisons," Sway asserted.

Jackson noted the Maine Department of Corrections releases almost 1,000 people a year, but many rehabilitative programs have been shut down because of the pandemic.

"When you have a hold on all of this programming, it just sets everyone back," Jackson remarked. "Meanwhile, people are still being processed and transition as their time comes up. And so not preparing people for re-entry, it just seems like we're setting them up for failure."

He emphasized the vaccine is just one step that needs to be taken to ensure folks have the resources they need for a smooth transition.

Lily Bohlke, Public News Service - ME