There is a good deal of fuss on social media about this issue: “Federal inmates to start receiving coronavirus vaccinations this week,” according to a report by Global News. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole reacted in a way that I believe is ill-advised:
Inmates, whether federal or provincial are in our, society’s “care” while they are incarcerated. How we, as a society, treat them ~ “the least of these” ~ says a lot about us, does’t it? People who are in jail are, mostly, there for a reason (I’m sure there are some innocent people locked up) but society’s aim to is to reform and rehabilitate them. The punitive part of their incarceration ~ and it, being deprived of liberty, is one part of “justice” ~ does not carry with it a sentence of sub-standard “care.”
How do we get this right?
I am 78 years old. I expect to wait, patiently, while while the most vulnerable ~ senior citizens in Long Term Care homes, for example, who have died in shameful numbers, in their thousands, and health care workers and first responders ~ are vaccinated. I do not mind waiting while all the 79-year-old and older convicts are vaccinated. But I see no evidence that jails are as dangerous long term care facilities. Indeed, the article reports that Correctional Services Canada says that there are 195 cases (out of about 14,000 inmates, according to the John Howard Society) and three inmates have died. Prisons do not look, to me, like they need to be high priority targets for vaccinations. But that doesn’t mean they deserve to be at the end of the line, either.
There is a case that prisoners should have a high priority:
I totally reject that rationale. Of course, the vaccine rollout must include prisoners, but many people have suffered from “structural and institutional equalities,” however you might like to define them, without resorting to crime and harming others. We, as a society, have an ethical responsibility to ensure that prisoners are treated fairly and humanely. They have not “earned” a place at the head if the queue by being criminals.
While I believe that I must wait while a 79-year-old convicted felon is “jabbed” I will not accept that I must wait while a 50-year-old or 20-year-old inmate gets vaccinated just because he’s been convicted of a crime that is serious enough to merit being held in a federal prison. Equally, I will not accept that a 20-something felon should get “jabbed” ahead of the 20-something Canadian sailors, soldiers and air force members who are either overseas or getting ready to deploy.
Unless there is some compelling evidence that federal prisons are more dangerous than, say, Peel Region in the Greater Toronto Area, then there is no good reason to give inmates any preferential treatment. Maybe there are 600 ill and elderly inmates who need the 1,200 doses. If that’s the case then there is no problem. If, on the other hand, a senior official in Correctional Services Canada (CSC) interceded with a colleague in Public Service and Procurement Canada to get 1,200 doses so that (s)he would have some “good news,” for a change to counter the bad press that CSC has been getting, especially in the Globe and Mail, then that is both wrong and unacceptable.
The right thing to do is to treat prisoners ~ federal and provincial ~ as people, that is to say as we would want to be treated. It is wrong, on every level, to deny adequate, appropriate and timely care to inmates just because they are convicted criminals. It is equally wrong to reward them for being in prison.