New York Prisons Offering Inmates Barbecues, Conjugal Visits to Get Them Vaccinated

State prisons in New York are finding ways to motivate inmates to get their COVID-19 vaccinations by offering incentives like barbecues, care packages and conjugal visits.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) told The New York Post they are doing "everything possible to encourage incarcerated individuals" to get vaccinated, and a total of 34,000 inmates have been given the chance to win certain prizes or rewards for being vaccinated.

Acting Corrections and Community Supervision Commissioner Anthony Annucci wrote in a memo issued to all inmates, "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."

The incentive program also includes giving five vaccinated inmates from each state prison a care package, "filled with the most popular food items sold at our assigned facility's commissary, not to exceed a $75 value."

The last thing offered in the program is the vaccine being used as a prerequisite for the qualification of conjugal visits, where an inmate's family or friends are allowed to stay and visit for two or three days.

Inmates have to be well-behaved and receive approval from the commissioner's office in order to receive a conjugal visit, but the vaccines will now be used as a qualification as well, according to The Post.

Annucci said, "many other state prison populations have much higher vaccination rates," but he hopes the implementation of the plan will prove to be significantly successful.

The plan has not been implemented without criticism, however, as president of the state Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, Mike Powers, commented that the state of New York should think more about its essential employees than the inmates, according to The Post.

"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?" Powers asked.

And state Sen. Tom O'Mara spoke out against the plan as well, saying, "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."

Instead, O'Mara said that "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 levels."

But a spokesperson for the DOCCS told The Post in response to the critics that the prioritization of vaccines in prisons is detrimental.

"The maximum number of vaccinated incarcerated individuals ensures a safer work environment for staff, the incarcerated population and visitors to facilities," the spokesperson said. "This type of incentive program has proven to be effective not only in the general public, but in correctional systems across the country. For correction officers to politicize this effort and dismiss all the challenges of the past year and a half is beyond the pale."

According to the DOCCS' website, over 6,000 New York state inmates and 5,175 prison staff have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and 42 inmates are still being treated in isolation currently.

Newsweek reached out to the DOCCS for additional comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

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The Metropolitan Correctional Center, which is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, stands in lower Manhattan on Nov. 19, 2019 in New York City. New COVID-19 vaccine incentive programs for inmates in the state of New York include offering barbecue cook-outs and conjugal visits for vaccinated inmates. Spencer Platt/Getty Images