Lawyer pushes for vaccinations in prisons as COVID cases, deaths climb

Coronavirus

Juan Chavez seeking federal intervention amid class action lawsuit representing prisoners

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Seven inmates imprisoned by the Oregon Department of Corrections who filed a class action lawsuit in April, citing lack of state protections from the ongoing novel coronavirus, are now pushing for vaccinations.

The prisoners’ attorney, Juan Chavez, told KOIN 6 News that failing to protect inmates from COVID-19 is essentially a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

He said his clients are demanding that the federal government intervene and compel the state to vaccinate all prisoners against the virus. Chavez helped the prisoners file a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction Thursday in order to do that.

“Respiratory droplets pool in indoor environments like prisons. And people were going to get very sick if we didn’t make any changes. This is the sad proof of what we’ve known all along.”

Attorney Juan Chavez

He said the decision to give vaccinations to other members of the public who are healthier–before prisoners–is a violation. And the number of the prisoner deaths have been high.

“What we knew back in April was going to become shockingly clear very soon, if we didn’t change course. Basically, we knew that people weren’t going to be able to stay away from each other,” Chavez said. “Respiratory droplets pool in indoor environments like prisons. And people were going to get very sick if we didn’t make any changes. This is the sad proof of what we’ve known all along.”

The motion for a temporary restraining order reads: In between vaccines development and the date that the Oregon Department of Corrections suffered its first positive case, 3,084 people have contracted the virus while in ODOC custody. Thirty-three have died. Nearly one third of those deaths occurred in just the last month.

Chavez said nearly 800 staff members have also gotten sick at ODOC and the restraining order is about their safety as well.

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