The midnight deadline came and went for all New Jersey corrections officers to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be terminated. The crickets we’ve heard since doesn’t mean the firings aren’t going to happen.

According to an article by Michael Symons, thousands of officers remain unvaccinated and about 1,600 of those have filed for exemptions.

William Sullivan, president of PBA Local 105, says the Department of Corrections is taking the weekend to go through those exemptions and that firings are still on the table and may begin soon.

NJ State Prison, Trenton (Google Maps street view)
NJ State Prison, Trenton (Google Maps street view)

The Department of Corrections has said at present the staff vaccination rate is only 42.8% even with the threat of termination. So the big question. How far is Phil Murphy willing to take this game?

I’ll never work for him, but if I had his ear I’d tell him he needs to drop this and drop it right now. The Department of Corrections is short-staffed as is. Officers are often working 16-hour shifts and have only time to leave the state prisons and county jails where they work to go home, barely say hi to their families, sleep and come back.

The same governor making this threat recently spoke of how as fast as omicron swept over us it’s receding just as quickly.

Further, 73% of the country is now believed to have developed an immunity against the dominant omicron variant. All the metrics have improved to the point that it makes no sense to be heavy-handed and carry out mass firings of our corrections officers.

Did you know the prisoners they guard are not required to be vaccinated? It’s left as their choice and prisoners have even been offered incentives to choose to get vaxxed. Incentives like money, special food not normally available to them, even time off their sentences.

But corrections officers? They get threatened. And when they are already working 16-hour shifts because of a labor shortage, who are they putting at risk? Prisoners who are offered the vaccine anyway and maybe their own families? Isn’t that between them and their families? These overworked guards don’t exactly have free time to enjoy superspreader events like games and concerts.

Prison cells at the Monmouth County Correctional Institute. (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media New Jersey)
Prison cells at the Monmouth County Correctional Institute. (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media New Jersey)

At this point, it seems more about pride than it does about science on Murphy’s part.

We already have 1,400 corrections officers that qualify for retirement and many may choose that over the vaccination. If we fire more who is going to do the job?

It reminds me of the "son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded" speech by Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men.”

Who’s gonna do it? You? You Gov. Murphy?

Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.

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