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Sedgwick County Jail offers vaccine incentive to inmates, sees increase in vaccinations

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 2:10 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - This month, the Sedgwick County Jail began offering a vaccination incentive to inmates.

Inmates will receive $10 in commissary items if they get vaccinated.

The jail currently has 16 inmates with COVID-19 and four staff members.

Only 13 inmates got COVID-19 vaccines last month, but after the jail began offering the new incentive, it went up to 114 by mid-August.

“The goal is to mitigate COVID-19 in the jail as much as possible. It’s a correctional environment,” Lt. Jared Schechter with the jail said. “We’re running at capacity or more above capacity today on inmates, and so social distancing is very difficult to do in a correctional environment.”

Schechter said that the new program is funded by a grant through Kansas Beats the Virus, not by taxpayer dollars. He also said the facility’s commissary provider offered to match the $2,000 grant.

Schechter said the $10 in commissary items is worth eight to 10 packs of ramen, four bags of chips, and jalapenos.

Currently, the Sedgwick County Jail offers COVID-19 vaccinations to inmates during their physical at the jail or any time a resident requests the vaccine – and is the best way for the jail to combat COVID-19.

“We’re lucky if 10% of our inmates wear masks,” Schechter said. “We’re not going to use force on an inmate to wear masks, it’s completely wrong.”

Some inmates of the facility have underlying health conditions, which put them even more at risk of having serious health conditions if they contract COVID-19.

“So by offering the vaccine that helps mitigate some of that,” Schechter said. “For a variety of reasons in the community, whether lack of access, lack of resources, lack of funds, a lot of them are not receiving the health care they need in the community. And so we have to step in and fill that void when they get here and get them caught up on what they may need for underlying health problems.”

The Sedgwick County Jail began vaccinating inmates in April, where they vaccinated 418 in their initial drive. The numbers then started to decline, with 258 in May, and only 41 in June.

Currently, jail staff are not required to be vaccinated, and the jail isn’t requiring staff to report that they are vaccinated against the virus.

“We’ve encouraged all of our staff to get vaccinated,” Schechter said.

Schechter said the jail takes the virus seriously by requiring a 10-day quarantine for inmates who are entering the facility and by using other COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

“The people in our jail, are the people in our community,” he said.

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