NY inmates offered food, conjugal visits, more to get COVID vaccine

It’s Hot Vax Summer — for jailbirds.

State prison officials are so desperate to get inmates vaccinated against COVID-19 that they’re dangling care packages, barbecue parties and even conjugal visits, according to a memo issued this week to the nearly 34,000 jailbirds.

A mere 45 percent of New York’s incarcerated felons have been inoculated, compared to more than 70 percent of the law-abiding population, Acting Corrections and Community Supervision Commissioner Anthony Annucci wrote.

Meanwhile, “many other state prison populations have much higher vaccination rates,” Annucci lamented.

“To encourage you to do your part in this fight, the Department will implement an incentive program,” he wrote Wednesday.

The plan includes randomly gifting five fully vaccinated inmates in each of the state’s 50 prisons care packages filled with “the most popular food items sold at our assigned facility’s commissary, not to exceed a $75 value.”

Jerk chicken cooking in a traditional oil drum barbecue
A memo said inmates can receive barbecue parties and even conjugal visits.
Getty Images

“In addition, 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 wrote.

The cook-outs will be divided among prisons housing 399 or fewer inmates, 400 to 799 and more than 800 each, with two from each category getting the prize.

And if satisfying hunger isn’t enough, officials are also appealing to other, baser instincts.

“In addition to keeping yourself, your family, and your friends safe, one other benefit for getting the vaccine is that when the Department restarts the Family Reunification Program in September, it will be a pre-requisite for any participating incarcerated individual to be fully vaccinated,” Annucci wrote.

“Family reunification” is bureaucratic jargon for conjugal visits that take place in trailers and generally last between two and three days.

Downstate Correctional Facility
The plan includes randomly gifting five fully vaccinated inmates with “the most popular food items sold at our assigned facility’s commissary, not to exceed a $75 value.”
Richard Harbus for the New York Post

To qualify, inmates have to be well-behaved and receive approval from the commissioner’s office, according to a source familiar with the process.

As of Thursday, 6,603 inmates and 5,175 prison staffers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, with 42 inmates still isolated and being treated, according to the DOCCS website.

Thirty-five inmates and eight staffers have died of the disease.

Annucci’s memo followed vaccination incentives announced recently by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio that include lottery tickets worth as much as $5 million each, college scholarships, MTA MetroCards and railroad passes, and gym memberships.

Moderna Covid-19 vaccine
Forty-five percent of New York’s incarcerated felons have been vaccinated.
ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Mike Powers, president of the state Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association said, “We feel New York should think about its own essential employees who continue to serve the community and follow the lead of other states who have correctional officer-specific incentives available.”

“The brave men and women of NYSCOPBA have sacrificed their personal health and safety throughout this entire pandemic, putting in long hours in adverse conditions,” Powers said.

“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?”

Annucci’s plan also came under fire Thursday from state Sen. Tom O’Mara (R-Elmira), who said, “The Cuomo’s administration has more important work to do than putting together and expending its resources on care packages and arranging barbecues for state prison inmates.”

“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,” O’Mara said in a prepared statement.

O’Mara also accused Cuomo and his fellow Democratic lawmakers of “coddling inmates by severely hampering disciplinary sanctions, finding ways to parole more and more inmates, and diminishing the ability of correctional officers to deal with violence inside prisons.”

A spokesperson DOCCS told The Post the department is “doing everything possible to encourage incarcerated individuals” to get vaccinated.

“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.”

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