‘‘To date, DOC has performed close to 26,000 COVID-19 tests for a current custody population of fewer than 6,600 people,’’ a DOC spokesman said in an emailed statement to the station. ‘‘Department-wide universal testing is under way for inmates, patients, and direct custody staff at all facilities.’’
Massachusetts began offering vaccines to prisons and residential congregate care settings such as nursing homes and homeless shelters in January 2021. Since then, over 4,300 prisoners, pre-trial detainees, and staff have been vaccinated. The majority of those vaccinations (3,500) were administered by DOC.
Prisoners and detainees, however, appear to be skeptical about the safety of the vaccine. DOC says that about 22% of prisoners refused the shot. Norfolk County Sheriff Patrick McDermott said only about 30% of the detainees in his jail accepted the vaccination.
“Some inmates are refusing and guards are too,” said an inmate who emailed WBUR News. “Most of them do not trust the fact that the vaccine has not been tried, and tested, and will not take it until they are forced to.”
DOC made a compelling offer to push prisoners to agree to COVID vaccination: it offered a week in good time credits if prisoners read and watched educational materials about the Moderna vaccine and took both doses of it. After WBUR News published a report about the incentive, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security said the good time credits would not be offered.
“When the Governor’s office became aware of the memo, the decision was made to rescind it because the memo is not consistent with the Administration’s policies regarding reduced prison terms,” said spokesperson Jake Dark.
As of mid-March, 3,013 Massachusetts prisoners had been infected with the coronavirus and 20 had died, according to statistics compiled by The Marshall Project. That does not include the deaths of two men who died after being granted medical parole. Two pretrial detainees have died from COVID-19 in Massachusetts jails.
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