On Friday, plaintiffs in Rush v. WA State Department of Corrections filed a Motion for Discretionary Review and Statement of Grounds for Direct Review with the Washington State Supreme Court after a judge in Thurston County Superior Court denied their motions for class certification and preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs had filed suit against the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Corrections (DOC) based on their failed pandemic response, which has already resulted in multiple outbreaks and inhumane conditions such as widespread lockdowns and use of solitary confinement, limited access to toilets, showers and running water, and lack of programming and visitation. The trial court refused to grant the requested injunction requiring DOC and DOH to take these specific steps to protect the vulnerable people who are living in our state correctional facilities:
- Immediately making the COVID-19 vaccine available to all people in DOC custody,
- Providing everyone with accurate and timely information about COVID and the vaccine, and
- Prohibiting unvaccinated staff from entering DOC facilities and coming into contact with people in DOC custody.
As of May 4, 2021, only 6,096 people in DOC custody have received at least one dose of the vaccine, which means that over 8,200 people have not yet received even a single dose. DOC’s “plan” included skipping ordering vaccines for a whole week in April because giving shots conflicted with staffs’ vacation plans for spring break. Even worse, on May 6, 2021, DOC announced that it had provided expired vaccine doses to more than 200 people in custody at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
This case is about more than just allocating the required number of doses and offering the vaccine to people in prison. Many people in custody have a deep and profound distrust of DOC, and lack access to information about the vaccines, their safety, and the safety of the administration of those vaccines. This latest misstep will only further compound those fears.
“People in Washington’s prisons remain as one of the groups most vulnerable to COVID-19. DOH and DOC have had every opportunity to remedy the situation, but their failure to adequately respond to this ongoing emergency has forced our clients to seek relief in court,” said Columbia Legal Services attorney Tony Gonzalez.
As of May 4, 2021, only 3,672 staff and/or contractors – 41% of DOC employees – have accepted the vaccine from DOC, and DOC has admitted it does not know the number of staff members that have been vaccinated by outside providers. Each day, unvaccinated DOC staff are walking into prisons from outside communities and bringing with them potential COVID-19 exposure. Recently, infected staff caused the first confirmed outbreak at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women. People in custody have no choice but to come into close contact with DOC staff for things they need, like soap or toilet paper. DOC staff also continue with pat or strip searches, making contact that much more personal. Yet, DOC continues to ignore unvaccinated staff as a problem, and has not done anything to address the risk staff impose on people in custody.
Tony Gonzalez, Attorney
(509) 662-9681 EXT: 124, firstname.lastname@example.org
Charlie McAteer, Communications
(917) 696-1321, email@example.com