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Vaccine incentives go to prison: Maryland corrections department offers cookies, snacks to spur interest

The Maryland Department of Correctional Services and Public Safety is offering snack packages and other food items as an incentive for inmates to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Department spokeswoman Latoya Gray said 24 items are available in the packages, including rice, tuna, cookies, crackers and chips. The packages also will be distributed to those who already have volunteered and received the vaccine, she said.

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“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. “The contract healthcare provider will send each facility the names of all vaccinated inmates, and all will receive their commissary incentive package.”

Maryland’s innovative approach mirrors a national trend by states, cities and businesses to drive up the number of people getting the vaccine. Ohio has offered a chance to win $1 million to recipients, West Virginia is offering $100 savings bonds, while Krispy Kreme is giving away donuts to the vaccinated and Uber is promising free rides to drive people to vaccine sites.

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As of May 1, the most recent data available, about 70% of the state’s 18,000 prisoners have received at least one vaccine dose. Of those, 8,348 inmates have received their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination, and an additional 4,527 have been fully vaccinated, according to a letter sent recently from Robert L. Green, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, to two Maryland elected officials.

Green added that 3,237 inmates refused the first dose of vaccination and that the bulk of refusals occurred in April as eligibility was expanded from older and high-risk groups to all inmates.

The decision comes amid concerns from advocates about a coronavirus outbreak in a Baltimore city jail.

Earlier this week a Maryland federal judge, acting on a motion by the American Civil Liberties Union in an ongoing prisoner rights lawsuit, ordered the state to provide detailed vaccination data for inmates at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center. The state was given until May 21 to comply.

The corrections department said there have been at 30 least inmate deaths across the state due to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

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