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Just Detention International-South Africa Statement on Vaccinating Inmates

  • February 5, 2021

Just Detention International – South Africa (JDI-SA) welcomes the South African government’s plan to prioritise vaccination of incarcerated people against Covid-19. Under the Vaccination Roll-out Plan, people in places of detention will be vaccinated in phase 2 — after frontline healthcare workers, but together with essential service workers, people over 60 years old, and people with co-morbidities.

Places of detention are high-risk areas for the spread of COVID-19 due to overcrowding, lack of adequate ventilation, and a general lack of hygiene. Incarcerated people are unable to socially distance, and have limited access to protective measures or equipment, such as sanitiser and masks.

Opponents of the plan argue that the government should not have placed inmates at the front of the vaccination queue. Yet there are clear public health reasons for vaccinating the prison population early. The virus has significantly impacted the prison population, leading to 10 654 infections (6 869 officials, 3 785 inmates) and 226 deaths (162 officials, 64 inmates). In addition, inoculating inmates — thousands of whom are released every day — will help to control this deadly virus in the broader community.

“The outrage over the government’s plan reflects a broader societal trend to stigmatise inmates,” said Prince Nare, Co-Director of Just Detention International-South Africa. “When a person is incarcerated, they are often deemed unworthy of, at best, compassion and support, and, at worst, basic human rights. In fact, the government’s plan is the right thing to do — not just for inmates, who continue to be harmed by the pandemic, but for everyone. Good prison health is good public health.”