Georgia Judges to Offer Some Reduced Sentences for Offenders Who Get Vaccinated

In an effort to increase the number of vaccinated adults, Georgia's Hall and Dawson counties are offering a new incentive through the legal system: People who are or will be performing community service as part of their sentence could have their sentences cut in half by getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Georgia's current vaccination rate for their population is 37 percent, while the national average is 47 percent.

Hall County in particular is looking to boost their vaccination rates as only 29 percent of residents have received one shot, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dawson County's vaccination rate is even lower, at only 25 percent.

While court leaders are trying to avoid pressuring offenders into taking the deal, there is hope that many will see the benefits of the offer.

"Somebody mentions 20 hours and that may not sound like a lot, but that half a work week and if somebody can get a shot instead of doing 20 hours of community service, that is a pretty strong incentive," said Andy Maddox, senior assistant public defender of Hall County.

Maddox said almost all of his recent clients have been offered the deal, and he expects some of them will take it.

Georgia Covid Vaccine
Tammi Brown, center, applauds after receiving a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from Nancy Toth on December 15, 2020 in Savannah, Georgia. Georgia's Hall and Dawson counties are offering people in the legal system performing community service as part of their sentence could have their sentences cut in half by getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Hall County Court Administrator Jason Stephenson said the Superior Court views defendants taking the offer as a form of community service, as well as recognizing the amount of commitment they must show to receive the vaccine.

"In our judge's view, every shot in the arm is a service to the community," said Stephenson. "For some offenders it does seem appropriate to recognize that the time and the cost involved and perhaps lining up childcare, taking time off from work, arranging for transportation, and making to a vaccination site–not once but twice. This recognizes the commitment they've made in doing that."

The state is closely watching Hall and Dawson counties to gauge the level of interest in the incentive, and the incentive is believed to be the first of its kind in the state of Georgia. Maddox sees the opportunity gaining momentum.

"I think initially it's some curiosity. Some have already gotten it. Many are pondering it," Maddox said.

The incentive has been offered in several dozen cases so far, and Stephenson says the judges can offer up to 20 to 40 hours in cases that can receive credit for getting the vaccine.

The hope behind the incentive is that as more people receive the vaccination, the greater the overall impact for the community. As of yet, there is no determined amount of time in which judges will be offering the incentive. It is being handled on a case-by-case basis.

covid shot
Clint Turnage, loads syringes with the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in Bidderford, Maine on April 26. The state of Georgia is closely watching Hall and Dawson counties to gauge the level of interest in the incentive Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images