State prisons offer incentives to get inmates to vaccinate

Posted January 29, 2021 3:05 p.m. EST
Updated January 29, 2021 5:20 p.m. EST

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— The state prison system will offer most inmates a five-day sentence credit in a bid to boost vaccination rates behind bars, Department of Public Safety leaders said Friday.

The incentives were announced a few weeks into the prison system's coronavirus vaccination efforts. So far, the system has gotten about 3,000 vaccine doses from the state and was on track to use them all by the end of Friday, prison leaders said. They expect another 2,000 doses next week.

Many of those shots have gone to staff, though roughly 853 of the state's nearly 30,000 offenders have gotten their first of two doses. Roughly 2,800 of the state's 14,100 prison staffers have taken their first shot, the department said.

It's impossible to say when the entire population may be vaccinated, Prisons Medical Director Arthur “Les” Campbell said during a weekly call with reporters. It depends how much vaccine is made available, and that's a figure likely to shift in the coming weeks.

The vaccine demand far outstrips supply worldwide, but the state prisons system is thinking ahead about ways to ensure as many prisoners as possible will accept the shots, which remain voluntary in the system for now.

Some 21,000 prisoners are eligible for sentence reductions and would get five days knocked off their sentence for taking the shot, Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee said. The rest, who aren't eligible for a reduction, will get a $5 credit in their prison canteen.

All inmates will get an extra four visitation sessions and a free 10-minute phone call.

The incentives were announced after surveying wardens for suggestions.

"We think we've put together a high-impact package," Ishee said.

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