Responding to a federal judge’s order, Maryland has started posting information about COVID-19 cases and vaccination rates inside state prisons, more than a year after the virus started infecting people behind bars.
The judge’s decision followed a court filing by the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this month seeking information specifically about the Baltimore City Intake and Booking Center, and more generally questioning what it called an overall lack of transparency by the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Angelina Guarino, executive director of the corrections department’s office of data development, said in a court filing that its website will now include facility-specific vaccination information.
“The website will also show the total number of inmates housed in DPSCS facilities across the State, how many have received first doses and second doses of a vaccine to date, and the total number of refusals,” Guarino said in court filings.
The department’s website will be updated with new information each Friday.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander ruled May 11 that Maryland must provide COVID-19 vaccination data for the Baltimore city jail.
The data shows that, as of May 20, none of the jail’s 715 inmates are actively positive for COVID. But in the 30-day period prior to reporting, 39 inmates tested positive for COVID-19, with one of them being symptomatic.
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The state’s filing also answered questions raised by the ACLU and a federal judge over the number of vaccines that have been administered at the Baltimore city jail. As of May 20, a total of 257 inmates were provided a first dose of vaccine, while 331 inmates refused to be vaccinated. Additionally, 90 inmates received their second dose and six who had taken a first dose refused the second.
The percentage of jail inmates who have received at least one dose is far lower than in the overall inmate population statewide, where more than 70% had received at least one dose. The state said that those who are vaccinated at the Baltimore city jail are then transferred to other facilities with dormitory-style housing instead of cells.
“This means that many individuals who were vaccinated at BCBIC are no longer housed at that facility,” the state said in court documents.
Those transfers may be at the heart of the city jail’s lower vaccination rate, said David Fathi, executive director of ACLU’s National Prison Project.
“It is highly probable that this transfer policy is contributing to the low vaccine acceptance rate. If detainees learn that they will be transferred — possibly further away from their family, public defender, etc. — once they’re vaccinated, they may decide to refuse the vaccine, when they would otherwise have accepted,” Fathi said in a written response to questions.
Fathi also said that the percentage of those vaccinated at the city jail is far too low.
“First, the acceptance rate for the first dose of the vaccine is less than 44% among detainees, which is obviously suboptimal and concerning,” Fathi said. “The other concern is the very low acceptance rate. If there is more than half the population remaining vaccinated, there is still a high risk of transmission, sickness and death.”