On February 7, one day before Alabama began allowing incarcerated people to become vaccinated for COVID-19, Robert Presley tested positive for the disease at the Easterling Correctional Facility. Presley, 54, died on March 13 at a local hospital, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections, and despite state guidelines allowing the department to do so since Feb. 8, as of Friday, the Alabama Department of Corrections still wasn’t offering vaccines to incarcerated people, while the number of COVID-19 deaths continues to mount.
Alabama’s prison system is ranked as ninth-highest in COVID-19 deaths in the nation, per 100,000 inmates, according to a joint project by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press.
Presley is the latest of at least 63 incarcerated people statewide to have died after testing positive for COVID-19 before or after death, while three prison workers have died from the disease.
Inmates are among the most vulnerable population from coronavirus, due to an inability to social distance inside prisons, and should be prioritized for vaccinations, according to the American Medical Association.
An ADOC spokeswoman told APR on Feb. 24 that the department in October had ordered refrigeration equipment for prisons to store the only two vaccines on the market at the time: Pfizer, which requires ultra-cold storage, and Moderna, which can be stored in a regular freezer. Alabama received its first shipment of the Johnson & Jonson vaccine, which can be stored in a regular refrigerator, in the first week of March.
ADOC on March 17 announced the department had received 4,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the first vaccines received by the department from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Those first doses are only being offered to prison staff, who agree to take them on a voluntary basis, according to an ADOC press release Friday, which noted that 25 workers at the Hamilton Aged and Infirmed and another 5 staff members at the Hamilton Community-Based Facility and Community Work Center had received vaccinations. ADOC noted that the reported numbers do not include staff who’d been vaccinated outside the ADOC system.
“The ADOC is in the process of finalizing its plan to provide vaccines to inmates who wish to receive a vaccine when more doses become available and after all staff who wish to participate in this process are inoculated,” ADOC’s press release states.
ADOC is to continue vaccinations this week at Bullock Correctional Facility, Limestone Correctional Facility, St. Clair Correctional Facility, Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women and Ventress Correctional Facility, according to the department.