Coronavirus: Louisiana judge allowing defendants to get vaccinated for community service

BATON ROUGE, La. — A Louisiana judge is taking a new approach to encouraging more people to get vaccinated as COVID-19 cases surge nationwide: offering probation candidates the opportunity to get vaccinated as their community service, according to multiple reports.

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Judge Fred Crifasi began offering the option to people who have appeared before him this week, The Washington Post reported.

“Getting vaccinated is a service to the community,” Crifasi said in a statement obtained by the Post. “So, if a probation candidate is inclined to get vaccinated, I will grant credit for that effort toward any requirement of community service. The amount of hours varies and depends on the person’s circumstances.”

>> Related: Coronavirus: CDC recommends masks indoors for some vaccinated people

Attorney Ashley Greenhouse told WAFB that Crifasi offered to let her client, who had four hours of court-mandated community service to complete, get vaccinated instead.

“He was like … ‘If you’ll come back and show me (that) you’re double vaccinated, fully vaccinated, then I will give you credit for the hours,’” she told the news station. “I think he was really careful that he was not forcing you, he was not coercing you to do it.”

Defense attorney Franz Borghardt told the Post and WAFB that judges have a fair amount of sentencing discretion related to community service, and the fact that Crifasi is offering vaccination as an optional alternative to defendants – and not mandating it – makes such offers legal.

>> Related: CDC mask recommendations: Is your county a ‘high transmissibility’ area?

“If the defendant says, ‘Hey, I don’t want to do this, I want to do community service,’ knock yourself out,” he told WAFB. “If you’ve already gotten vaccinated, it’s even better. I don’t think the community loses out on this one. In fact, I think there’s a strong argument the community wins.”

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore told the news station that his office supports the deals.

“I think it is surely a viable option given where we are at,” Moore told the Post. “We’d like to keep our courthouse population safe and our inmates safe so this would maybe be one way to do it.”

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Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 532,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported across Louisiana, resulting in about 11,000 deaths, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Health. Officials said 1.9 million people, or 41% of the state population, have received at least one vaccine dose, including 1.7 million people who have been fully vaccinated.

In recent weeks, the highly transmissible delta variant has driven up infection rates nationwide as vaccination rates slowed across the country. Officials have grappled with ways to encourage more people to get vaccinated, with the governors of California and New York announcing vaccine mandates for state employees and health care workers.

>> Related: Coronavirus: New York state workers will be required to get vaccinated or tested weekly

“What do you want someone doing right now?” Moore asked in an interview with WAFB. “Do you want them picking up trash on the side of the road or potentially donating services for good causes, or do you want someone to do something for themselves and protect others?”

The United States leads the world with the most coronavirus cases and the highest death toll. Since the start of the pandemic, officials have confirmed more than 34.6 million infections and reported more than 611,000 deaths nationwide, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

More than 196.2 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, resulting in 4.1 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

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