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NYS Prisons Offering Inmates Incentives To Get Vaccine

To boost the COVID-19 vaccination rate in New York prisons, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is offering incentives to incarcerated individuals.

Acting DOCCS Commissioner Anthony Annucci issued a memo to New York’s 32,136 incarcerated individuals announcing the creation of the incentive program. Five vaccinated inmates from each of the 50 state prisons will be randomly selected to receive a care package. The care package will include “the most popular food items sold” and won’t exceed a $75 value, according to the memo.

DOCCS will also reward vaccinated incarcerated individuals at select facilities with a barbecue. The prisons with the highest vaccination rates among the incarcerated population will host the celebrations. The department has divided the correctional facilities into three categories: Category 1 (prisons with capacities of 800 or more inmates), category 2 (capacities of 400 to 799 inmates) and category 3 (under 400 inmates). The barbecues will occur at two prisons in each category.

The memo is displayed in state prisons, and superintendents are meeting with the correctional facility’s inmate liaison committee and housing unit representatives to discuss the incentive program and other details. After the memo has been posted for two weeks, prisons will survey the incarcerated population to determine who is interested in the vaccine. Vaccination clinics will be held at the facilities within the next three weeks.

Nearly two weeks ago, DOCCS reported that 14,100 incarcerated individuals — 44% of the statewide prison population — have received at least dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. A department spokesperson added that vaccination clinics have been completed at all facilities and educational videos are being shown to highlight the importance of getting vaccinated.

The vaccination rate among DOCCS staff is unknown. The department isn’t mandating the vaccine for employees. As of June 24, 7,550 employees received their first dose of the vaccine at a department clinic.

Second doses of the Moderna vaccine or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine were administered to 7,994 employees. The totals don’t include employees who were vaccinated at community clinics outside of prisons.

Michael Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, questioned why DOCCS wouldn’t offer incentives for employees to get vaccinated.

“We all want a safe working environment,” he told The Citizen on Tuesday.

There is another potential incentive for incarcerated individuals to get vaccinated: participation in DOCCS’ Family Reunion Program.

The department announced in June that it is planning to resume the program in September after it was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program, commonly referred to as conjugal visits, allows for incarcerated individuals to have extended visitation with family members. There will be cleaning and safety protocols, including a requirement that all participants — the incarcerated individuals and visitors — must be vaccinated.

“If you have not yet been vaccinated, please get vaccinated for your own protection, for the protection of those around you, and to help us get back to normal that much sooner,” Annucci wrote.

New York prisons were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to DOCCS, there have been 6,602 cases among the incarcerated population and 5,175 employees tested positive for the virus. There were 43 deaths — 35 inmates and eight staff members.

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