COVID vaccine incentive program for New York inmates announced

Critics were quick to pounce on the program that offers care packages and barbeques to inmates

By Giavanni Alves
Staten Island Advance

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Care packages full of food, barbecue parties and conjugal visits are among the perks that vaccinated New York State incarcerated individuals can soon expect.

Acting Corrections and Community Supervision Commissioner Anthony Annucci wrote an internal memo Wednesday informing the state’s nearly 34,000 inmates of a new incentive program to encourage them to receive the COVID vaccine, the New York Post reports.

The new program aims to improve lagging vaccination rates within the state's prisons. Only 45% of inmates have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The new program aims to improve lagging vaccination rates within the state's prisons. Only 45% of inmates have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo/Miranda Cyr, Las Cruces Sun-News)

The program includes awarding five fully vaccinated inmates at random in each of the state’s 50 prisons with care packages up to $75 in value filled with popular foods from the commissary.

At the end of the campaign, according to the Post report, six facilities with the highest rates of vaccinated inmates will host a barbecue for the vaccinated population. In the memo, Annucci also announced that vaccinations will be a prerequisite for conjugal visits when the Family Reunification Program resumes in September.

According to Annucci, only 45% of New York’s state prison population has received at least one dose of the vaccine compared to more than 70% of the general population in New York, which he pointed out is lower than the rate in other states.

Maryland introduced a care package incentive program for its inmates this Spring. By May, approximately 70% of the state’s inmates had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Baltimore Sun.

New York State Senator Tom O’Mara released a statement on Thursday expressing his disapproval of the incentive program for the state’s inmates. The senator says that the state should be allocating resources to more pressing issues in prisons.

“The Cuomo administration has more important work to do than putting together and expending its resources on care packages and arranging barbecues for state prison inmates, including those who have already been vaccinated,” said O’Mara.

“State prison officials should be prioritizing their efforts on actions to put a stop to the rising tide of violence throughout our prison system and ensure adequate staffing,” O’Mara continued.

Mike Powers, president of the state Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, likewise criticized the move, arguing that the state should be doing more for its correctional staff.

“We feel New York should think about its own essential employees who continue to serve the community and follow the lead of other states who have correctional officer-specific incentives available,” he said.

“The brave men and women of NYSCOPBA have sacrificed their personal health and safety throughout this entire pandemic, putting in long hours in adverse conditions,” Powers said. “They’ve given everything they have to the state of New York, including unfairly having to fight to get their sick time made whole after being forced to quarantine after an exposure. Where is their vaccination incentive program?”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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