SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Paying jail inmates to get vaccinated? Sacramento County is making the move to stop the spread of COVID-19 behind bars, but some don’t believe the jail incentive goes far enough.

Outbreaks at Sacramento County’s two jails are prompting demands of change from activists and loved ones of inmates.

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“[Jail workers] need to do it. Mandate. If you want to keep your job, you need to get vaccinated,” said a woman named Shelia, whose son is in jail.

“As of just this late afternoon we were up to 191 cases of covid in the jail since the outbreak,” county Health Services Director Chevon Kothari said during a board of supervisors meeting Tuesday.

Those numbers represent cases found in just the last two weeks. Since March 2020, there have been 2,018 positive tests among inmates.

On Monday, the first coronavirus-related death at the jail was reported of a vaccinated inmate. The vaccination rate within the jail is only 30%, compared to 70% countywide.

Since July, the county’s offered to pay inmates who get vaccinated. Jonte Berry, who was going to turn himself in to the jail Tuesday, said the incentive is not enough to convince him to get vaccinated.

“I’m not vaccinated now, this wouldn’t make me want to get it for just $20. I would pass,” he explained.

Crystal Carrell’s fiancé, Douglas Murrin, also passed on the $20. She is concerned about the jail’s quarantine system that separates inmates into pods and believes the jail should have more precautions in place. According to the county, there are four types of COVID-19 “pod” housing units in each jail.

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Those four are:

  • intake quarantine for new arrivals
  • close contact quarantine for those exposed to someone with COVID-19 but has no symptoms
  • suspect isolation for those with symptoms but pending tests
  • confirmed cases

“What arises when they are quarantined and they find somebody has the virus? Then what? What about all those people?” Crystal questioned.

Shelia’s son has been behind bars for months and claims he was denied the vaccine.

“He was having problems with his kidneys, so he wanted to know what about the vaccination and they told him he wasn’t eligible for it,” she said.

“Inmates upon arrival or offered vaccinations and provided education about vaccinations,” Kothari said in the meeting.

Activist group Decarcerate Sacramento is asking the county for the immediate release of inmates, fearing the outbreak will only continue to grow.

“We ask that you use your platform and your powers to support the immediate release of folks inside of the jail. We ask that you tell the district attorney to stop the spread and save lives by choosing not to file charges,” said activist Mackenzie Wilson.

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According to the county, testing procedures are in place, including the testing of all transfers and new intakes before their intake quarantine period.

Velena Jones