MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KION) A judge has temporarily blocked a state health order set to take effect this week that required California prison employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Kern County Judge Bernard Barmann issued a temporary restraining order that prevents enforcement of the vaccination mandate for guards and peace officers represented by a powerful union while the court weighs a request for a preliminary injunction, the Sacramento Bee reported.
The mandate will still apply to other employees who work in prison health care settings.
KION spoke to a Soledad prison employee who did not want to be identified.
"Just like women have a right to their bodies and what they do with it, officers, whether they're female or male, have the right to do with their bodies what they want. If they don't want the vaccine they should be able to choose not to do that," she said.
The state's August 19 order required all employees — including correctional officers — who work in or around prison health care settings to be fully vaccinated by October 14th.
For now, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are still abiding by their current COVID-19 guidelines, which include masks and testing all unvaccinated employees at least twice a week.
In a statement to KION, CDCR says over 61 percent of prison staff have been vaccinated, and they "continue to encourage and offer the vaccine for all staff and inmates."
According to the CDCR website, a total of 240 inmates and 39 prison employees have died from COVID-19 related causes.
The Correctional Training Facility in Soledad has seen 20 inmate deaths and 2 employee deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Salinas Valley State Prison has had 6 inmate deaths and 2 employee deaths.
The state is also currently fighting a separate federal ruling by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar that imposes a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on all prison employees, regardless if they work in health care settings or not.
The California Department of Public Health order only applies to prison employees who work in or around health care settings. CDCR says that means if a correctional officer does not want to be vaccinated, they could move to another area of the prison.
However, the federal mandate applies to all prison employees, which CDCR says would have an impact on their staffing and operations.
CDCR did release a three page plan to comply with that federal ruling, however, in the footnotes they say:
"Defendants do not waive any rights to appeal the Court's September 27, 2021 order by filing this implementation plan... CDCR continues to have serious reservations about implementing the Receiver's broad mandatory vaccination recommendation due to the impact of implementing this plan on staffing and operations statewide."
Gov. Gavin Newsom has a reputation as a strong proponent of vaccine mandates. However, Newsom is siding with the state corrections department on that federal ruling, filing a notice Tuesday that the state is planning to appeal.
The California Correctional Peace Officers Association opposes COVID-19 vaccine mandates for their officers. The group contributed $1.75 million to fight the recall against Newsom.