Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

Incentives push reluctant Pa. prisoners to get vaccine


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 17, 2021
Vaccine incentives, emergency power, low visibility, Republican retirement, nursing home visits, and how to celebrate Persian New Year. It's Wednesday.

Pennsylvania corrections officials are offering money to inmates who get the COVID-19 vaccine, a high-stakes attempt to drive up participation for the especially vulnerable population, Spotlight PA reports.

In exchange for receiving both the initial and booster shots, inmates are offered a $25 commissary credit to buy clothing, food, or other items. Of the three state prisons currently offering vaccines to inmates and staff, two report a vaccination rate above 70% — no small feat for a department that, on average, vaccinates just over a quarter of its population for the flu. 

But distrust remains and outbreaks continue at some of the 20 state prisons that still don't have access to the supply.

THE CONTEXT: In the close quarters of prison, the need to stem the pandemic is top priority

That urgency, coupled with a general mistrust of prison officials, has led to financial incentives and vaccine ambassadors being deployed. And while it's unlikely the commissary credits are the only reason people in Pennsylvania's prisons are choosing to get vaccinated, it hasn't hurt. 

Heather Lavelle, who is incarcerated at SCI-Muncy, was skeptical that the money would persuade people to get their shots but told Spotlight PA, "[...] as it turns out, it did encourage some people to get it who had no good reason not to.” 

The question now may be whether Pennsylvania's relatively unprecedented experiment should be emulated more widely.

THANK YOU! Together, we raised $5,000 in 35 hours and unlocked a $5,000 matching gift from The Steinman Foundation in Lancaster. But it's never too late to support our critical public-service journalism.

If you haven't yet, become a member of Spotlight right now.

“It’s simply not fair to give employees in our county false hope that they’re protected when the process followed by Council jeopardizes that."

—Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald on his veto of a paid sick leave bill for local workers
VACCINE UPDATE: The Biden Administration plans to roll out a television, radio, and digital advertising blitz in the coming weeks to counter COVID-19 vaccine skepticism in the general public. While there is certainly no shortage of demand now, vaccine hesitancy persists and experts fear the crisis will continue without a broader buy-in. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» The Fettermans: Join Spotlight PA at 5 p.m. April 6 for a conversation and reader Q&A with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Second Lady Gisele Fetterman on immigration, legal cannabis, racism, and more. RSVP FOR FREE

POST IT: Thanks, Michael Y., for this sunset shot of the state Capitol. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
EMERGENCY POWER: Weeks after a clerical error derailed a ballot question that could have opened the window for more lawsuits by clergy sex abuse victims, Pennsylvania lawmakers are turning to a rarely used legislative power in an attempt to get the question back on ballots this May, the Capital-Star reports. Should the effort fail, victims will have to wait at least two more years to resurrect the measure, which derailed in February, leading Pennsylvania's secretary of state to resign.

HEAVILY REDACTED: Allegheny County Jail responded to a reporter's request for information about inmate mental health policies with a raft of almost entirely redacted documents, saying further disclosure could lead to individual or institutional harm. But the same request yielded much more in return when made of the other five most populous counties in the state. PublicSource explains why Allegheny County's lack of transparency matters and how it speaks to a pattern.

TAKING VISITORS: Pennsylvania nursing homes are opening their doors to visitors again, with many residents preparing for their first close contact with friends and family since the pandemic began, PennLive reports. Officials acknowledged the hardship of social isolation in updating their visitation guidance last week. More than half of Pennsylvania's 25,000 COVID-19 deaths have involved long-term care residents.

PYLE RETIRES: Nine-term Republican state Rep. Jeff Pyle announced his immediate retirement on Tuesday, saying, "it’s time to now put my health first." Pyle represented parts of Armstrong, Indiana, and Butler counties in the state House and survived kidney cancer in his first term and a stroke last year, the Post-Gazette reports. Pyle's current term was set to end in November 2022. 

GRAND REOPENING: Pennsylvania's Capitol building will reopen to the public Monday for the first time since a December surge in statewide COVID-19 cases. Visitors will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing. There will be no events scheduled inside and a stepped-up police presence following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., per the Associated Press.

DEMOS: Jazz legend John Coltrane's threatened Philadelphia home shares a load-bearing wall with a property that's slated for demolition, alarming preservationists and drawing reassurances from officials, KYW reports. Coltrane composed some of his most groundbreaking works there. One example, the seminal "Giant Steps," is the subject of a fantastic Vox explainer on the album's fearsome title track and jazz itself

POTATO CANDY: If you know that Irish potatoes are candy and not vegetables, you might be a Philadelphian. “Irish potatoes are kind of like the Mummers,” Dave Lamparelli, founder of Philadelphia-area candy company Oh Ryan’s, told The Inquirer. “Once you go to New York or Pittsburgh or Washington, they have no clue what they are."

GOOD SAMARITANS: Take a minute and refresh your faith in humanity with a collection of random acts of kindness from the Post-Gazette's "Goodness" section. Each is a brief letter from a reader about something nice a stranger did. This week's installment features real-life snow angels, vaccine helpers, and an exceptional Sheetz delivery.

NEW YEAR: Saturday is Persian New Year or Nowruz, celebration of spring and renewal with millions of participants worldwide. Food is a central part, and WPSU’s Tamra Fatemi will be sharing her family's favorite holiday recipes — Sabzi Polo ba Mahi (herbed rice with saffron and fried fish) and Kuku Sabzi (an herbaceous frittata) — in a virtual event on Sunday.

SWING STATE: Four seasons in a day is cool, but have you ever tried two diametrically opposed seasons at the same exact time? A Reddit user in Dauphin County did, posting a photo of snow on the ground on a 70-degree day last week. In true Pennsylvania fashion, commenters celebrated throwing snowballs in flip-flops and suggested a "depressing" spring snowman be built.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Friday's answer: Wheezing

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Craig W., Kerri G., Dixie S., Susan D., Becky C., David I., Margaret D., Neal W., Paul H., Cynthia H., Yvette R., Jessica K., Bill C., Mark O., Kevin H., Steve D., Cdgalardi, Joel S., Brandie K., Patricia M., Jill M., Michael P., Marsha B., Boyd W., Irene R., Patrick M., Bruce B., Kim C., Debbie D., Daniel M., Beth T., Kathleen C., Kathryn W., George S., Craig E., Alice B., Heidi B., Adrien M., Jill G., Dianne K., Tish M., Christine M., Dennis M., Kimberly B., Carole D., Lance L., Jeffrey S., Carol D., Lynne A., Karen W., Linda B., John A., Rick D., Bruce B., David W., Patricia R., Donna W., Cathy S., Mary Kay M., and Bob R.
Like PA Post? Share it with a friend.

Love PA Post? Chip in to support local journalism.

Forwarded this newsletter? Subscribe here.
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

Copyright © Spotlight PA / The Philadelphia Inquirer, All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
225 Market St., Suite 502A
Harrisburg, PA 17101

You're receiving this email because you subscribed to PA Post, which has combined with Spotlight PA to create Pennsylvania's largest statewide newsroom dedicated to accountability journalism.

You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.