Some people respond to events with hearts and minds firmly in the real world. Then there are those like the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, which seems to be clueless.
The uproar is over a program to encourage more incarcerated people in the state to get the COVID-19 vaccine through a Department of Corrections and Community Supervision vaccine incentive program.
DOCCS reported the program will offer incentives to the vaccinated incarcerated population from facility commissary to a barbecue. And NYSCOPBA is asking, Where is our barbecue?
The union should know that DOCCS also reported that as of last Friday, there were 6,602 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the incarcerated population in state prisons and 375 among parolees. Compare that to 5,175 confirmed cases among staff.
Deaths among the incarcerated population number 35, including four at Coxsackie Correctional Facility in Greene County, second only to the Fishkill Correctional Facility, with six, according to the DOCCS report. Eight staff have died from COVID, according to the report.
NYSCOPBA wants to know why their members are not being offered vaccine incentives.
“They offered up incentives to inoculate the inmate population, yet we’re the front line,” NYSCOPBA President Michael Powers said. “We’re in those facilities 24/7. I know that it’s a personal choice to get vaccinated, but that may have gone a bit further for us had that incentive been offered to us.”
Corrections officers are on the front lines, yes, but they are all not working 24 hours a day in confined, airless spaces. Inmates are in their cells most of the time; they don’t get to leave at the end of their shift. And yes, it is a personal choice to get vaccinated, but prison employees are free to make that choice when they are not on duty and have access to clinics or PODs. Inmates don’t get that freedom or that choice.
The union also neglects to mention that the average annual salary of a corrections officer in the Capital Region is $33,000 to $66,000, according to Salary.com. Meanwhile, inmates in New York are among the nation’s lowest paid, earning an average of 62 cents per hour, according to a study from the Prison Policy Initiative published in 2019.
We agree that correctional officer is one of the toughest and most potentially dangerous jobs in New York. But NYSCOPBA isn’t doing itself any favors by complaining about incentives and asking, “What about me?”