Gone is the time when all New Jersey Correctional Police officers received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but it is unclear how quickly and when the Department of Corrections could begin rejecting the work of potentially thousands who did not comply. mandate.

Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday during his briefing on COVID-19 that he is confident there will be enough staff to continue overseeing the state’s prisons, which house about 12,000 people.

Only 43% of prison staff were vaccinated, prison spokeswoman Liz Veles said Thursday.

According to state budget documents, the department has more than 7.5 thousand people, including uniformed officers and civilians. This would mean that more than 4,000 employees are not fully vaccinated. According to William Sullivan, president of PBA Local 105, which represents them, the Corrections employs about 5,000 correctional police officers. It is unknown how many of the unvaccinated officers are officers.

“Our HR team is still collecting data,” Veles said when asked how many correctional staff had not been vaccinated.

The According to the department, 4,402 employees received the vaccine through the ward at least 2,200 were fully vaccinated and 173 received revaccination.

Murphy’s executive order

On January 19, Murphy issued an order workers in medical facilities and living quarters are required, including in prisons, are subject to vaccination. For penitentiary staff, the deadline for receiving at least the first dose or request for medical or religious exemption was 16 February. By March 30, they should receive a second dose or butter. The order requires employers to file a disciplinary action for non-compliance with the order, which may include termination. This was done by the Department of Corrections.

“Except for the approved exemption, employees who are not vaccinated in time will be warned of non-compliance within three days of the date of notification,” Veles said in a response to an email to NJ Spotlight News about the timing of disciplinary action. “Personnel who still do not comply will be charged with dismissal (termination of employment) and then dismissed without pay after a hearing in Loudermill pending termination proceedings.”

This means that the time of the actual shootings, if they continue, is still unknown. Once the DOC starts sending out non-compliance reports, which union officials suspect could happen Monday or Tuesday next week, officers and other staff will have three days to comply with them before receiving notice of suspension and possible termination. waiting for the hearing. Public sector officials have the right to challenge dismissal at a Loudermill hearing before the state can take such action.

The transition to firing officers could lead to mass retirement. Sullivan said currently 1,500 officers are eligible to retire, and many can file for retirement, “as soon as you see that people are receiving a three-day notice.”

Prior to Murphy’s January 19 order, the state allowed its employees to be tested weekly or twice a week for COVID-19 instead of proof of vaccination. A Gothamist report shows that from October 18 to early February, the state spent at least $ 9.5 million testing government employees. The corrections had the lowest vaccination rate among all state departments, then 41%. The average vaccination rate for government employees at the time was 70%.

The State Department of Health currently reports that 77% of all eligible New Jersey citizens are vaccinated.

Why officers don’t do vaccinations

Sullivan cited several reasons why officers chose not to vaccinate, most of them related to concerns about the rate at which vaccines were approved, and questioning the science of their effectiveness. In particular, he said, they do not understand why the state requires them to be fully vaccinated, and not from prisoners and those who come to them. And they ask why they need to get vaccinated when Murphy cancels the mandate for masks for schools.

“I think a lot of people don’t trust a lot of the science behind it,” Sullivan said. “Most people do not understand that most officers do not maintain constant contact with prisoners. In most facilities, they spend most of their time in cages behind bulletproof glass.

He added that about 40% of those who tested positive for COVID-19 due to the spread of the highly contagious variant of omicron were vaccinated. Data from the department show that positive tests for COVID-19 among employees reached a maximum of almost 20% of all analyzes conducted in mid-December, which is below the national trend.

Sullivan also questioned Murphy’s announcement time, which occurred as the number of new daily COVID-19 cases declined. The number of new cases reported across the state caused by omicron reached 32,700 on Jan. 8, but dropped to about 16,000 on Jan. 19. On Thursday, the state reported 2,700 new cases.

“If he had done it in the midst of a pandemic, maybe a little more people would have trusted him,” Sullivan said. He also said the union could work out a compromise with the governor’s office if it consulted with union leaders before Murphy’s order. “We failed to talk. Now we have to be active. “

During a briefing Wednesday, Murphy said the state decided to demand vaccinations after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Joe Biden’s mandate that those working in medical facilities receive vaccinations, and expanded the requirement to include such high-risk utilities. as correctional facilities.

“We know that in some communities … there is a much greater risk of infection and potential illness and potentially serious illness, or God forbid, death,” Murphy said. “Although we have consistently believed that in an educational setting a combination of masks and vaccines or a testing option is appropriate for the moment within the educational community, it is not appropriate for the moment, especially with the strength of the Supreme U.S. Supreme Court Judgment. including corrections ”.

According to the Department of Corrections, at the time of death, 59 prisoners were COVID-positive. More than three-quarters of them died in the first months of the pandemic. Sullivan said five correctional officers were killed.

Trial for mandate

The union sued to terminate the vaccination mandate, but lost. Judge in the trio the board of appeals ruled last week that Murphy had the right to order officers to vaccinate and went on to quote the inaugural speech of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 in writing, which we all have for each other ”. The state Supreme Court declined to consider the appeal. Sullivan said union lawyers continue to consider appeals to federal courts, but the deadline for terminating the mandate has already passed.

Murphy expressed confidence that the state will be able to continue to run prisons even if the Department of Corrections accepts the dismissal or dismissal of a large number of officers.

“Do we have enough workers? We believe that the answer is yes, and we would not have taken this step if we did not feel that we have a responsible plan to make sure that we can continue to govern these communities, “he said.

Veles said the department “is ready to implement strategies to maintain the integrity of its activities, including consolidating units / facilities as needed and / or providing additional resources with the support of the governor’s administration.”

New Jersey released more than 5,500 people from prison to try to stop the spread of the virus, which has reduced indoor congestion. But the agency continued to pay significant amounts of overtime – at least until last year, according to the state budget. Sullivan said healthy officers had to cancel vacation time and worked 12-hour shifts during the December peak of COVID-19 to ensure proper staffing.

“The department heads told me that they feel they can consolidate the facilities so that they can continue to staff them,” Sullivan said. “If we don’t have enough staff, there are a lot more attacks on prisoners … I’ll be interested to see what they do.”

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