Alabama offering $5 in canteen credit to prisoners who get vaccinated

The state is trailing the nation when it comes to vaccination rates.

August 4, 2021, 5:59 AM

As coronavirus cases in Alabama prisons continue to rise, the state Department of Corrections is offering incarcerated individuals incentives to get vaccinated.

Both inmates who get the vaccine and those who've already gotten it will get $5 in canteen credit.

The initiative comes as the Alabama Department of Corrections reported a total of 15 people -- six inmates and nine staff members -- tested positive for COVID-19 as of July 30. Last week, 27 people -- nine inmates and 18 staff members -- tested positive, which was more than four times the amount of cases reported the previous week.

After introducing the incentive, the department reported 103 inmates participated in the prison's free vaccination program.

"A confined correctional environment in which social distancing is challenging and all communicable diseases, to include COVID-19, spread more easily is -- put simply -- starkly different than a community environment," department spokesperson Kristi Simpson told ABC News, adding that incarcerated people don't have the "freedoms available to free citizens to ensure public safety."

A healthcare worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a drive-through clinic at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) in Northridge, Calif., May 13, 2021.
Jill Connelly/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

Along with this new initiative, Alabama correctional facilities have taken other measures to decrease infection rates, Simpson said, including restricting visitation and non-essential entry into facilities, quarantining new inmates and rescheduling non-emergency medical appointments.

Alabama isn't the first state to offer incentives to incarcerated individuals. The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision randomly selected vaccinated individuals to receive a care package valued up to $75 last month. In Pennsylvania, inmates were offered $25 in commissary credit.

Forrest Behne, policy director at the COVID Prison Project, an organization dedicated to tracking COVID-19 data and policy in correctional facilities, said that while incentives can help increase vaccination rates, the "high prioritization of vulnerable individuals and early vaccine distribution is really essential."

"It's not nothing. Right?" Behne told ABC News of the Alabama incentive, though he also noted that it's "not as generous" as some other places. "We want to see as many people afforded the opportunity to take a vaccine as possible."

Prisons aren't the only entities in Alabama trying to incentivize its community to get the jab. Auburn University rolled out its own vaccination program, offering big-ticket items such as a $1,000 scholarship, priority class registration and a lunch for four with Auburn President Jay Gogue.

This photo provided by the Office of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, shows Ivey and her dog Missy in a photo released on Jan. 29, 2020.
Hal Yeager/Office of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey via AP

President Joe Biden endorsed offering incentives in a briefing last week, encouraging states to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to provide $100 payments to individuals who get vaccinated. States such as Ohio and New York have adopted this approach, but it's unlikely Alabama will follow suit.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has continued to say there is no need for a statewide incentive program for all residents.

"Let's focus on encouraging people, educating people about the benefits of taking the shot," she said during a press conference last week. "That's all we need to do."

In a statement to ABC News, the Alabama Department of Corrections said it and its representatives “stand behind Governor Ivey and her statements.” When asked about the different approaches to increasing vaccination rates, the department added, “Governor Ivey recognizes that measures appropriate to advance the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine within a correctional environment are different than those most appropriate for the general population.”

Dr. Karen Landers, area health officer with the Alabama Department of Public Health, told ABC News the department is still researching available options for the use of federal funding to provide vaccination incentives.

According to the CDC, 34.3% of Alabama's population is fully vaccinated and 43.2% have received one dose.

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