Pennsylvania Inmates Being Paid To Get COVID-19 Vaccine

The state is rolling out an incentive program to get inmates the COVID-19 vaccine; KDKA's Meghan Schiller reports.

Video Transcript

FRAN NAGY: I was at the a point when I was going to drive all the way to North Carolina.

STACY SMITH: Shock and frustration. One grandmother from Cranberry considered driving eight hours to be vaccinated. Now she is learning that state prison inmates will soon get the dose and some cash for being vaccinated. Thank you for joining us at 6:00. I'm Stacy Smith.

KYM GABLE: And I'm Kim Gable. KDKA investigator Meghan Schiller just confirmed that the state rolled out something called the Inmate Incentive Program. Meghan joins us now. And Meghan, how much money are we actually talking about here?

MEGHAN SCHILLER: Kim, we're talking $25 an inmate. The State Corrections Department says that they rolled out this statewide inmate incentive in order to tell inmates that if they get vaccinated they can get some cash, $25 a pop. But where does the money come from? And what about that grandmother up in Cranberry?

FRAN NAGY: Are the ones--

MEGHAN SCHILLER: Fran Nagy is fired up.

FRAN NAGY: It was shock to hear what you said that they were going to get offered money.

MEGHAN SCHILLER: Her vaccine search consumed her for weeks, making her feel like a prisoner in her own home.

FRAN NAGY: I was at the point where I was going to drive all the way to North Carolina. I would have spent a lot more money to get that shot. And hey, if they want to give me 24 bucks, I'd take it. But I think in prison, no.

MEGHAN SCHILLER: She just landed her first dose and sent us this selfie, but Nagy's not smiling after hearing state inmates might soon pocket $25 for agreeing to get vaccinated.

FRAN NAGY: Well, I don't understand why they just don't automatically make them take it. They have a captive audience.

MEGHAN SCHILLER: The money will come from the state's Inmate General Welfare Fund, which is not taxpayer money. Meanwhile, the state's nearly 11,000 correctional employees want to know why should inmates get shots before them.

JOHN ECKENRODE: It's absolutely-- I can't-- I can't even put words to it, it infuriates me so bad.

MEGHAN SCHILLER: John Eckenrode serves as president of the PA State Corrections Officers Association.

JOHN ECKENRODE: We go into these settings-- in a congregate setting-- where it's very hard to social distance. And then at the end of the day you go home. So we're going home to our family members, were going back to the community.

MEGHAN SCHILLER: And that's the very reason why advocate Claire Shubik-Richards wants the vaccine behind bars.

CLAIRE SHUBIK-RICHARDS: So all 23 state facilities and the majority of county facilities have had massive outbreaks of COVID.

MEGHAN SCHILLER: State data reflects the spread. As of Tuesday, a total of 500 inmates and 200 employees are sick right now. COVID has already killed 100 inmates and four employees.

CLAIRE SHUBIK-RICHARDS: Some are saying, why should we be paying criminals to get a vaccine that I can't get myself? Well, it's the same thing. If you care about your own personal safety and the safety of your family and the safety of the people in your community to be virus free, you really want congregate care settings to stop spreading the virus. To stop compounding and accelerating the viral spread.

MEGHAN SCHILLER: Nagy wants to see that, but she'll take the cash until then.

FRAN NAGY: Hey, if they want to give me 25 bucks, I'd take it. But I think in prison, no.

MEGHAN SCHILLER: And out of the 23 state facilities, I'm told only three are actively vaccinating. In the remaining 20, there are older people that are medically vulnerable. And as for those state corrections officers going in and out of these facilities each and every day, they tell me that they expect they will have to wait for months because they're still in Phase 1B. Reporting live, Meghan Schiller, KDKA News.