NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York must immediately begin offering COVID vaccinations to all incarcerated people in the state’s prisons and jails, a state judge ruled Monday.
In a scathing ruling this week, a state Supreme Court judge called New York’s decision to leave them out of the vaccine rollout “unfair and unjust.”
Attorney Meghna Philip, who brought the lawsuit on behalf of two men at Rikers Island, said her clients have been living in a state of persistent fear.
“In our conversations they spoke about being in close quarters with other incarcerated people, about crowding in the dorms, about eating alongside people who were unmasked, sharing bathrooms,” Philip said.
Activists say those incarcerated should have had access to vaccines weeks ago, when others living in congregate settings became eligible.
The judge agreed Monday, writing “There is no acceptable excuse for this deliberate exclusion.”
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Andre Ward, an advocate who was previously incarcerated himself, called the state’s actions inhumane.
“I felt really deeply troubled by the neglect that people experience, which by extension is really a form of abuse,” Ward said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s office complied with the ruling quickly, announcing eligibility will be expanded to all people behind bars starting Tuesday.
“Obviously, they are a politically marginalized group and that’s why it was even more important for us to bring this lawsuit and vindicate their constitutional rights,” Philip said.
With coronavirus continuing to rage in jails and prisons, advocates are hoping the order will help stop the spread.
So far, 35 incarcerated people have died and more than 6,200 have tested positive, Fan reported.
CBS2’s Christina Fan contributed to this report