The Orleans Justice Center. (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

People incarcerated at the New Orleans jail started receiving COVID-19 vaccination shots last week, according to a Tuesday press release from the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office. Thirty-three detainees at jail were vaccinated last Friday, March 12, under the state’s previous vaccination guidelines that made anyone who is 65 years and older with co-morbidities eligible. 

OPSO also said that it would be receiving 100 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Tuesday, and that officials expect an additional 200 doses of Moderna to be delivered next week. 

As of last week, any adult with certain pre-existing conditions is eligible to be vaccinated in Louisiana, along with anyone 65 or older. It was unclear on Tuesday how many people in the city’s jail are eligible under the new rules. 

Phil Stelly, a spokesperson for OPSO, said that the jail was working to allocate the limited doses of vaccine to the most vulnerable people in the jail. Currently, he said, jail officials are working on putting together a list of people over 55 with co-morbidities who will be next to receive the vaccine.

He also said that “virtually all employees and contractors” working in the jail have already been vaccinated, but did not immediately have numbers available. 

Correctional facilities have been among the hardest hit during the pandemic, and the New Orleans jail has seen several significant outbreaks. At one point over the summer over 90 detainees were confirmed positive in the facility. 

OPSO reported that as of Monday, March 15, there were 7 detainees who were confirmed positive for COVID-19, along with two employees or contractors. 

The status of vaccine distribution to prisoners throughout the state is less clear. The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections announced at the end of January any prisoners over the age 70 — those eligible under the state’s previous criteria — who wanted a vaccine had received their first dose. That constituted about 82 percent of the 460 eligible prisoners.

The department has not responded to a request for updates since the new eligibility criteria went into effect last week.

Nick Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...