Some Idaho prisons have higher vaccination rates than the general public, National Guard offering help

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

The Idaho Department of Corrections houses 8,400 people in state facilities. Idaho Reports reviewed the number of people housed in the IDOC prisons and reentry centers, comparing that to how many of those people who have been vaccinated in the facilities in recent months. These numbers are only residents of the facility and do not include IDOC staff.
Inmate population numbers at each facility change modestly every day, so the rate of vaccinations calculated by Idaho Reports are not exact. Illustration by Troy Shreve

At the height of the pandemic, coronavirus ripped through the Idaho prisons, spreading among the more than 8,400 people housed in state facilities.

As of Friday, the current infection rates in the Idaho Department of Correction facilities remained relatively low, like rates in the rest of the state, but vaccination rates in prisons are mostly higher than in Idaho’s general population. 

In total, IDOC reported 81 active positive cases Friday, but 77 were asymptomatic.

Since COVID-19 made its way into the prisons last year, 4,288 people contracted the virus while incarcerated by the state. That’s roughly half of Idaho’s state incarcerated people. Those infections do not include any infected IDOC staff members over the last year.

Six people in IDOC custody have died of COVID-19-related causes. One of those deaths was a man being housed at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona, where some Idaho offenders are being incarcerated due to lack of bed space.

Vaccination rates among the various prisons and reentry centers in Idaho vary widely.

As of Friday, about 41% of Idahoans age 12 and older have been vaccinated, according to Health and Welfare. Among Idahoans age 65 and older, 72% of those people have been vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino has a 76% vaccination rate among its 556 incarcerated people, as of Friday. But the Idaho Maximum Security Institution outside Boise has only vaccinated 16 people, or 3.1% of the resident population, in a prison that houses 515 men.

The state’s largest prison, the Idaho State Correctional Center — the temporary home to 2,060 people — has vaccinated 49% of its residents. 

Inmate population numbers change modestly every day, so the rate of vaccinations calculated by Idaho Reports are not exact.

Idaho National Guard Lt. Col. Chris Borders confirmed that about 15 members of the Guard have been supporting IDOC in its vaccination process and their mission will continue through the end of June. 

Alternative housing

Hundreds of state prisoners are housed every year in county jails because IDOC doesn’t have enough beds in its prisons. As of June 11, 462 of those people were being housed in a county jail rather than a state prison; Data was unavailable on whether they had been vaccinated. 

Idaho is also housing 373 people in the Saguaro Correctional Center, a private prison that IDOC contracts with due to lack of space in Idaho facilities. Saguaro is in Eloy, Arizona, and is run by the CoreCivic Corporation, a for-profit private company. 

IDOC reported that 130 of people under its supervision contracted coronavirus at the Saguaro facility, but they have no active cases as of Friday. 

Only 34% of the men being housed at Saguaro have been vaccinated, meaning 129 Idaho men have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while in the facility.

There is a delay in IDOC getting vaccine numbers, so sometimes there are more people vaccinated than the website shows. 

Vaccination plans

“IDOC and Corizon (the department’s contracted health care provider) have worked closely with the health districts to obtain the vaccine,” said IDOC spokesperson Jeff Ray in an email Tuesday. “At this time, we are not experiencing any distribution issues.”

The Idaho National Guard has been helping Corizon distribute vaccines to IDOC residents for several weeks. 

“If everything goes as planned, by June 25th, 2021, every resident within IDOC’s custody will have been given the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Ray said in an email to Idaho Reports. “Once all residents have been offered the vaccine, we will begin another round of offering the vaccines to anyone who declined the vaccine in the first round of offerings.”

Additionally, all people coming into IDOC custody go through an entry process which includes a 14-day quarantine and the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccination prior to facility placement.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare confirmed all vaccinations of IDOC facility residents appear on the state data dashboard as they are entered into IRIS, the state system used by medical providers to track whether a person has been vaccinated. 

The dashboard does not break out whether the person vaccinated was living in a correctional facility. 

Central District Health, which includes Ada, Elmore, Boise and Valley counties, has been in contact with IDOC throughout the pandemic. 

“Corizon Health, the medical contractor for IDOC, has been administering vaccine to staff and inmate population with vaccine allocations from Central District Health,” said CDH spokesperson Christine Myron. “Like many other providers we’ve allocated vaccine to, they let us know what their allocation needs are and we work to assign doses accordingly.”

The vaccine is shipped directly to the registered provider, not to CDH.

Myron said IDOC requested the Guard’s assistance through CDH, and is working with strike teams to support COVID-19 vaccine administration and testing. 

“These support requests go through the respective public health districts,” she said. “We fill out the request and submit it to the Idaho Office of Emergency Management for fulfillment.”

The Idaho Office of Emergency Management is a division of the Idaho Military Division.

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