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EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — Groups advocating for prisoners to receive COVID vaccinations sooner rather than later include United Congregations of Metro East.  Rev. Michael Atty is the group’s executive director and believes it’s the state’s moral obligation to protect prisoners from the deadly virus.

“They have no other recourse,” said Atty.  “They’re in close quarters.”

As of last week, the state of Illinois indicated prisoners were on track to receive the vaccine as soon as early February.   An Illinois Department of Corrections spokesperson said through an email, “When the State moves into Phase1b of its vaccination plan, each correctional facility will work with its local health department to determine a schedule. IDOC is working with IDPH to finalize details of its plan; it will be released publicly at that time.”

“People who are incarcerated are still human,” said Stephanie Taylor.  She’s a member of United Congregations of Metro East and has 2 sons serving sentences in federal prisons.

“With the cells being overcrowded and the prisons being overcrowded, social distancing is impossible,” said Taylor.

She has concerns about her sons contracting COVID, especially because one of them has an underlying health issue.

“His cellmate had COVID and they didn’t remove him from the cell with him,” said Taylor.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, all of the BOP’s facilities are expected to receive their first dose by mid-February.

Atty believes vaccinating the prison population will help keep prison workers, visitors and family members safe.  He said, “It really makes sense to us that this group of people who really don’t have any recourse, or any way to social distance should be at the top of the list to protect the larger community.”