OVER 120 INTERFAITH RELIGIOUS LEADERS ACROSS NEW YORK CALL ON GOVERNOR CUOMO TO ENSURE VACCINE ACCESS FOR VULNERABLE NEW YORKERS IN JAILS AND PRISONS
January 28, 2021
Contact: Gene Goldstein-Plesser, firstname.lastname@example.org, 919-824-0015
NEW YORK — Yesterday afternoon, a group of over 120 Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faith leaders from across New York State sent a letter to Governor Cuomo, urging him to ensure that New York State include incarcerated people in the current phase (Phase 1B) of the vaccine rollout, along with all other New Yorkers who live in high-risk congregate settings. Thousands of people entrusted to the care of the DOCCS system have already been infected with COVID-19, leading to dozens of deaths as well as outbreaks that have spread far beyond the walls of DOCCS facilities.
While Connecticut and New Jersey have already taken steps to ensure that this incredibly vulnerable population is included in Phase 1A and 1B of their rollout, New York has so far failed to follow suit. Acknowledging the current constraints in New York’s vaccine supply, the letter writers do not call for incarcerated people to be prioritized above other high-risk groups in Phase 1B. Rather, they insist that this vulnerable population, along with DOCCS staff, be included among those eligible to receive the vaccine, just like residents of other congregate settings.
The letter, co-sponsored by Congregation Beit Simchat Torah and Mt. Zion Church of God 7th Day, with the support of Center for Community Alternatives and the New York Jewish Agenda begins: “We are compelled to speak publicly today because to deny access to the vaccine to this population would be a grave public health risk and a violation of the core value of human dignity that lies at the heart of all our faith traditions.” The full text of the letter can be read here.
Several faith leaders released additional statements of support for the letter:
“In the first five books of the Bible, we are regularly reminded to protect and provide for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. Today, we understand this as a commandment to care for those most at risk and most easily forgotten. As the vaccine for COVID-19 is distributed among our highest risk neighbors, it is clear that although those who are incarcerated have a very high risk of infection, they are among the most invisible when it comes to setting our priorities. Today, we can understand the lesson of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger by adding our neighbors behind bars to our priority lists for the vaccine,” said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, Board Member at New York Jewish Agenda, and a co-sponsor of the letter.
“The least amongst us are those locked in prison. Our moral convictions must not forget those on the inside. They too have dignity and should be afforded health care which includes getting the COVID-19 vaccination,” said Pastor Gil Monrose, Lead Pastor at Mt. Zion Church of God 7th Day, and a co-sponsor of the letter.
“One of my parishioners died of COVID-19 this spring while incarcerated in a NYS prison. In his last letters to me, he wrote about how anxious he was to be in prison, since there were no provisions for him to distance himself from others. He had already served his sentence and was awaiting release. The state now has a chance to do what is right and vaccinate incarcerated New Yorkers,” said Reverend Steven Paulikas, Rector at All Saints’ Episcopal Church.
“The Islamic tradition insists that we care for all human beings equally. Specifically there is a command that we should “give food – despite their desire for it – to the poor, the orphan, and the captive” (Surah 76.8). The ethics of this verse compel us to restore humanity to those who are imprisoned, which is what we are doing today by urging the Governor to vaccinate New York’s incarcerated population,” said Dr. Mehnaz M. Afridi, Director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center.
“Time and again after natural disasters and health-related disasters, it is our most vulnerable neighbors who are the most likely to lose their lives due to a lack of access to life-saving resources. Our incarcerated neighbors are, in this unprecedented moment, among our most vulnerable neighbors most likely to contract COVID-19. New York State leadership has the ability to reverse this pattern of neglect by making incarcerated New Yorkers among those eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Rev. Karen Jackson, Co-Chair of the Staten Island Inter-Religious Leadership Coalition
Partner organizations that assisted in the distribution of the letter released statements of support as well:
“The New York Jewish Agenda bases its advocacy on core Jewish values, including dignity, justice, and responsibility. These values compel us to speak out today on behalf of this vulnerable population, and to insist that they receive the same treatment as all other high-risk communities in our state,” said Matt Nosanchuk, President of the New York Jewish Agenda, a liberal Jewish advocacy group.
“For months, we have called on the Governor to ensure that incarcerated people – like all vulnerable New Yorkers in congregate settings – have early access to COVID-19 vaccines in accordance with guidelines from the Center for Disease Control,” said Marvin Mayfield, Statewide Organizer at Center for Community Alternatives. “Now with 12 deaths in the past 5 weeks, the Governor’s continued failure to release a vaccination plan for incarcerated people is unconscionable. The Governor must ensure vaccine access in state prisons at once before more deaths occur on his watch. At the same time, New York’s legislature must pass urgently needed reforms to address the COVID crisis behind bars by passing Elder Parole, Fair and Timely Parole, and the HALT Solitary Confinement Act.”