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Sheriff offers inmates money to get vaccinated as COVID-19 cases spike at jail

Sheriff Kristin Graziano with inmates

Sheriff Kristin Graziano speaks to jail inmates about the new vaccination incentive program at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in August. Charleston County Sheriff's Office/Provided

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano is offering inmates money to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to help curb a "dramatic uptick" in cases of the coronavirus at the Charleston County jail.

Graziano said in a post on the website Medium on Aug. 31 there are 58 inmates quarantined in a COVID-positive unit at the jail. No one has been hospitalized amid the recent spike in cases, sheriff's Capt. Roger Antonio said. 

After the vaccines became available in the spring, Graziano said her office saw the number of COVID-19 cases fall dramatically. But since the delta variant began circulating in the Charleston area in mid-August, the number of infected inmates has again climbed. 

"I decided it was time to get more aggressive in offering vaccines to residents, and it was also time to get creative on how to encourage residents to participate in the vaccination program," she said. 

The jail began offering to pay inmates to get vaccinated on Aug. 19, the sheriff said. Inmates can earn $25 for each of the two doses of the Moderna vaccine or $50 for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The money is placed in the inmate's canteen account, which they use to purchase goods, like socks, bags of chips or other items within the jail.

The jail has been using funds from the Inmate Welfare Fund to pay the incentives, Graziano said. The trust exists to promote "overall inmate welfare" and is funded by a portion of inmate purchases at the canteen.

Inmates who do not spend their commissary money are provided the funds as cash when they leave the jail, Graziano said. 

In less than two weeks, the jail has vaccinated 359 inmates, Graziano said, paying out $15,600 in incentives to inmate commissary accounts. 

The jail recently brought in Pastor Aaron Hicks to speak with inmates about the importance of being vaccinated. The facility is working with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to provide vaccines for juvenile held in detention. Three juveniles have been vaccinated, Graziano said.

Charleston County jail is not the first correctional facility to offer inmates incentives to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections began offering $25 to prison inmates in February to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh

In North Carolina, officials offered prison inmates earlier release dates and other incentives to receive the vaccine, according to The Charlotte Observer

The Charleston County jail first began offering inmates vaccines in March. 

Reach Steve Garrison 843-607-1052. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT.

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