Lackawanna County Prison developing plans to vaccinate willing inmates

May 19—Lackawanna County Prison is developing plans to vaccinate willing inmates against COVID-19, and may offer a $20 commissary incentive to encourage vaccinations.

"We are coordinating with the (state) Department of Health in order to offer the Moderna vaccination to the inmate population," Warden Tim Betti told the county prison board Wednesday. "Our plan is to offer it to everyone here and then ... as new commits come in, to offer it to those who haven't had that opportunity as of yet."

Wellpath, the county's inmate medical provider, recently received approval to administer COVID-19 vaccines, Betti said. The prison could begin vaccinations as early as the end of the month, though there are elements of the plan that need to be worked out.

The Moderna vaccine is administered in two doses, with a recommended interval of 28 days between shots. Officials are still exploring how to coordinate second-dose vaccinations for inmates released from prison after receiving their first dose, according to the warden.


"I don't want to see us put in a position where we're giving the first shot to somebody then they get released and they don't get the second shot, and then they try and attribute the failure to get the second shot to us," said Judge James Gibbons, chairman of the prison board.

Inmates expressed little interest in getting the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine when surveyed by prison officials, Betti said. Federal health officials called for a pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccinations last month to investigate a rare blood-clotting issue suffered by six women who received the shot, but lifted that recommended pause in late April following a thorough safety review.

As officials explore how to coordinate second Moderna doses for inmates post release, they're also considering potential incentives to boost vaccination rates in the jail.

Betti hopes to offer a commissary package worth about $20 to inmates who get the vaccine. He's working with Oasis Management Systems Inc., which operates the commissary at the prison, to provide that incentive, he said.

Officials are also looking at eventually reinstituting public visitation at the prison, which Betti said is more likely if inmate vaccination rates are higher.

"If we have say 10% compliance with vaccination here, that's going to make me hesitate more than 50% compliance," Betti said. "The higher the percentage of those vaccinated, the higher the likelihood that we reinstitute (visitation) quicker."

The average daily prison population for April was 603 inmates, according to Betti's most recent warden's report.

The state Department of Corrections announced Wednesday that the resumption of in-person inmate visitation will be phased in at five state correctional institutions or facilities in the coming days, with the remaining facilities to follow. Visitation will resume at SCI Waymart on May 27, according to the state.

Also Wednesday, the county prison board unanimously authorized the use of about $26,132 in inmate canteen account funds to purchase an ion scanning device capable of detecting narcotics and explosive material in mail entering the jail. Canteen funds are generated by prison commissary sales.

Betti, who has been advocating for the device for the past two months, argued it will bolster safety by helping keep dangerous contraband out of the facility.

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