Big Macs, Pizza Latest Incentives to Get New York Prisoners Vaccinated

New York's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is offering fast food meals such as McDonald's and pizza to encourage prisoners to get the COVID vaccine.

The department on Wednesday sent a memo to prisoners stating that it will offer this incentive to them if they get fully or partially vaccinated against COVID by December 8.

The Department of Corrections is offering the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

"This incentive program will include a paired down menu, such as pizza or McDonald's, from a local vendor in your area, but must also include a non-pork item, which will be decided by the facility, after consulting with the incarcerated liaison committee," the department's acting commissioner, Anthony J. Annucci, wrote in the memo.

Each prisoner is allowed to spend no more than $10 on these meals, according to the memo.

DOCCS offering meal incentives for incarcerated individuals to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Incentive program could include pizza or McDonalds.

— Corina Cappabianca (@CorinaCappTV) October 21, 2021

Only around 50 percent of 31,753 incarcerated prisoners in New York correctional facilities have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, according to the New York Post.

A week after October 20, each correctional facility is also required to survey prisoners for their interest in being vaccinated and report the total count to the department's Central Office by October 28, according to the memo. Vaccination clinics will then be scheduled at each facility "within the upcoming weeks."

According to the memo, the department wants to increase the vaccination rate by at least 10 percent or more during the period starting October 20 and running through December 8. If incarcerated individuals help in increasing inoculation rates by getting vaccinated, they will receive a "special Christmas roast beef holiday meal."

"For example, if a facility has 350 incarcerated individuals who are vaccinated on October 20, it will need an additional 35 to be vaccinated, to qualify for the special Christmas meal," the memo read.

But the department confirmed that if facilities are unable to increase vaccination percentage, "the Christmas meal will still be an enhanced and enjoyable one, as required by the department's holiday menu."

The president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, Michael Powers, criticized the incentive program, pointing that it is "demoralizing to see the disparity in the treatment of inmates and staff."

"Since the beginning of the pandemic, our employees have worked long overtime hours in violent and harsh working conditions and are now subjected to a confusing, complicated testing mandate on their own time," he said, according to the Post.

Big Macs, Pizza to encourage prison vaccinations
New York's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision wants to increase COVID vaccination rate by 10 percent or more among inmates in prisons. Above, the entrance to Rikers Island, home to the main jail complex, is shown from the Queens borough as shown on October 19 in New York City. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

"Meanwhile, the State is using valuable resources to bring taxpayer-funded Happy Meals into facilities to incentivize inmates to get vaccinated. Where's the fairness in that? The State should treat everyone who resides inside the walls of the prison system equally and provide universal testing of staff, inmates, contractors and visitors at the facilities," he added.

In June, state prisons were offering barbecues, care packages, and conjugal visits to encourage inmates to get the COVID vaccine.

"At the conclusion of this vaccination campaign, Central Office will award a facility barbecue to all vaccinated individuals at six facilities...for the highest percentage of individuals vaccinated," Annucci said in a memo at the time.

Newsweek reached out to Powers and the department for comments but didn't hear back in time for publishing.