Since the outbreak of COVID, it’s been a struggle to contain outbreaks within the crowded walls of state prisons.
As of today, 2,031 correctional staff had had COVID, and over 7,000 inmates — about half the inmate population in Washington — has recovered from or is still suffering from COVID.
This summer, Governor Jay Inslee announced mandatory vaccinations for state employees, including corrections workers, with a vax deadline of Oct. 18. This week, 350 corrections officers were let go due to the vaccine mandate.
This week on Inside Olympia, Host Austin Jenkins sits down for in-depth interview with Cheryl Strange, appointed by Gov. Inslee last spring to be the new secretary of the WA Department of Corrections, and Michelle Woodrow, president and executive director of Teamsters 117, the union that represents scores of front-line corrections workers.
Both guests talked about the difficulty of letting go experienced, long-time corrections workers, some of whom were 30-year veterans of the DOC. Despite that difficulty, Secretary Strange says the vaccine mandate was necessary, that testing and masking alone isn’t able to stop the spread of COVID in prisons, and in fact increases the risk of the virus entering the prison in the first place. Woodrow is critical of the mandate, saying other prevention options are available, and pointing out that neither inmates nor visitors to state prisons are required to be vaccinated.
Watch the entire episode not only for a discussion about COVID, but to hear Secretary Strange’s thoughts about the future direction of Washington prisons.