A one-time incentive award is being offered to Hawaiʻi prisoners who become fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
On Thursday, Oct. 14, the Department of Public Safety (PSD) announced it would offer $50 to inmates to get inoculated. The money would be deposited into their spendable trust account.
The incentive is available to those individuals who were incarcerated after March 3, 2021, and are still in custody.
“PSD is doing everything it can to educate inmates about the vaccine and encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” said Tommy Johnson, PSD Deputy Director for Corrections. “We’ve seen a substantial increase in inmate vaccinations that we believe is a result of our education efforts. It is our hope that inmates who are still on the fence about getting vaccinated will participate.”
Several of the jails and prisons within the state have dealt with COVID-19 outbreaks among their inmate populations. In early August, infection and hospitalization rates surged statewide.
Also in August, Kauaʻi Community Correctional Center began dealing with its first COVID outbreak since the pandemic started in March 2020. The jail was on lockdown for almost two months, from Aug. 9 until the beginning of October.
As of Thursday, Oct. 14, 91 inmates and seven employees have recovered from the virus. KCCC is currently COVID-free.
As a result of the spike statewide, the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court suspended all jury trials until after Nov. 16. This is the second time since the pandemic began that the high court suspended trials in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.
With the declining trend in cases, Kauaʻi County’s Acting Prosecuting Attorney Rebecca Vogt Like told Kauaʻi Now News her office is optimistic that jury trials will resume after Nov. 16.
During the lockdown, Like said it was almost impossible to conduct meaningful hearings or for defense counsel to meet with their incarcerated clients.
“Although the court did use Zoom or Webex for some hearings, most of those were just continued until a later date,” Like said. “Trials were also delayed by issues in bringing victims and witnesses from the mainland and other islands given the changing quarantine, testing and vaccination rules.”
Inmates were notified of the new incentive this week. With more prisoners vaccinated, PSD hopes it will allow them to get one step closer to resuming normal operations, including transports.
PSD says it will continue to work with the courts on this matter.
Approximately 2,530 inmates, in custody both in Hawaiʻi and Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz., already qualify for the incentive payment. Another 137 are pending full vaccination status and approval for the incentive award.
“The primary purpose of this incentive is to keep inmates, staff, and family members safe during this pandemic,” PSD Spokesperson Toni Schwartz told Kauaʻi Now News. “Our hope is that inmates will choose to get vaccinated for their own wellbeing as well as for others around them.”
Like said she’s not sure what the best way is to boost vaccination numbers at the jail, although she thinks education about the benefits and risks associated with the vaccine will allow prisoners and PSD staff to make the best decision for themselves.
“I do not believe that paying someone $50 will have a significant impact on their decision to get vaccinated,” Like said. “The same reasoning applies to PSD staff – I don’t think that offering a monetary incentive will change a person’s mind regarding whether or not they will get the vaccine. People hold strong opinions regarding their decision to get the vaccine.”
A point-in-time study released in September showed 70% of KCCC were vaccinated. With news of the incentive released this week, PSD officials are waiting to see how the interest level toward taking the vaccine will change.
“Our hope is that this incentive program will encourage inmates on the fence about getting the vaccine to reconsider and choose to get vaccinated,” Schwartz said.
PSD requested and received approval for $615,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) funds to be specifically used as an incentive initiative for offenders in custody.
This incentive payment is not available to state employees. Schwartz said all state employees, not just PSD, would have to be considered for the award.
The Department of Public Safety (PSD) continues to encourage all staff to voluntarily get tested and receive the COVID-19 vaccination. According to Gov. David Ige’s direction, all state employees are eligible for up to two hours of administrative leave (per dose) to take the COVID-19 vaccine during normal work hours, as operations permit.
For more detailed inmate testing data, PSD’s Pandemic Plan and information on response efforts made to safeguard the inmates, staff and public, visit the dedicated COVID-19 webpage here.