Since the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic, people inside prisons have faced extreme risk of exposure, repeated outbreaks, prolonged lockdown conditions, and an overall lack of effective precautionary measures. Unlike the general public, people in prison are unable to exercise individual safety choices, regardless of their personal health risks or beliefs. And in the absence of outbreak prevention, repeated lockdowns have stripped away what minimal movement, social interactions and productivity are allowed under normal conditions.

Our latest round of fighting for COVID protections in prison came to a close on Friday. In Rush v. DOC we demanded that the Department of Corrections take three steps:

  1. make vaccines available to all residents
  2. provide protection from unvaccinated staff (who are the primary carriers of COVID into the prisons)
  3. provide accurate and culturally appropriate COVID education to all people in DOC custody.

A year after filing, this case has been dismissed because two of our three demands were met. Thankfully, the vaccine was made available to people in Washington prisons and, with the governor’s mandate for state employees, all prison staff are required to be vaccinated.

However, DOC’s numerous failures and missteps – including giving expired vaccine doses and allowing misinformation to spread unchecked – have created immense distrust. The result has been a vaccination rate in prison that is 25% lower than the rest of Washington, and people inside still living with many of the threats and consequences that drove them to seek help from CLS in the first place. So, while we celebrate that progress has been made, we are keenly aware that people are still suffering.

We are proud to stand with our clients in asserting their right to safety, even when we know the law is insufficient in protecting their full health. Our prisons were not built with humanity, safety, and dignity in mind, but it is our duty to demand these essential rights all the same, and to challenge the institutions that deny them.

Thank you for your partnership.

Merf Ehman
Executive Director

Read our media release here for more details.