Maryland inmates promised snacks, commissary packages if they choose vaccination

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The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has created an incentive program to encourage its incarcerated population to volunteer to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The Department has placed a very high priority on vaccinating as many people as possible,” Department spokeswoman Lt. Latoya Gray said in a statement. “While vaccinations are not mandatory, the Department has begun an incentive program which will give all inmates who complete their vaccinations a special commissary package.”

In response to a letter sent by Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) and Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) late last month, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Robert L. Green said that the agency is offering commissary packages to those who volunteer to be inoculated.

Gray said Tuesday that the packages provided contain snack foods such as rice, cookies, crackers and chips.

Contracted healthcare providers will forward the names of vaccinated individuals to the administration at each facility to distribute the packages.

“This incentive is in addition to the outreach, education, and engagement by trusted leaders that the Department has offered and will continue to offer, to assure our population is well informed as they make this critical healthcare decision,” Gray said in a statement.

Per Green’s letter sent to Carter and Moon last week, vaccines are now available to any incarcerated person aged 16 and older who wishes to receive one.

Eligibility for people aged 55 and younger began on April 27. As of May 1, 48% of this population had received their first dose of the vaccine.

According to the secretary’s correspondence, 8,348 people in state custody had received their first shot as of May 1, and 4,527 had received their second.

On May 7, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services COVID-19 dashboard only reported that 8,039 incarcerated individuals had received their first shot, and 3,630 were reported to have received their second.

According to the agency dashboard, 17,697 people are eligible to be vaccinated.

Green’s Chief of Staff Rachel Sessa said in an email provided to Maryland Matters that, as of May 1, 6,112 inmates had yet to be offered a vaccine, “however, this number fluctuates based on intakes and releases, which occur on a daily basis.”

Gray said Tuesday that, because of fluctuations in the prison population, medical conditions, intakes, discharges and refusals, not everyone who gets the first dose receives the second.

She explained that when Carter and Moon sent their inquiry, there were 17,697 incarcerated individuals identified as eligible to receive the vaccine by the department. As of May 1, 11,585 people had been given their first dose and 3,237 had declined to be inoculated.

“All inmates who are eligible for a vaccination that have not yet been offered one will be offered one as expeditiously as possible,” Sessa said.

Both Green and Sessa said that vaccinations are being offered “on a daily basis.”

“Clinical professionals are revisiting those individuals who refused their first shot to provide counseling and educational material in an attempt to encourage individuals to make an informed decision, and they are continually offered additional opportunities for vaccination,” Green wrote, adding that over 100 people had changed their minds about being vaccinated.

Earlier this month, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced that his administration would give $100 financial incentives for public employees, including correctional officers and other prison staff, to be vaccinated.

“With this incentive program, we are further encouraging state employees to get vaccinated to help keep themselves, their families, and their communities healthy and safe,” Hogan said in a statement. “These vaccines are safe and effective, they’re free, and they’re readily available with or without an appointment.”

According to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services COVID-19 dashboard, approximately 4,000 agency staff have received both vaccine doses at on-site Department-led clinics; the dashboard does not capture vaccinations received elsewhere.

“While it is not mandatory for staff to get vaccinated, the Department continues to encourage all employees to make an educated decision,” Green wrote.

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