Judge allowing offenders to get COVID vaccine in place of community service hours
BATON ROUGE - At least one judge in East Baton Rouge is offering some people on probation the option to get the coronavirus vaccine in place of some of their court-mandated service hours.
Court records obtained by WBRZ show Judge Fred T. Crifasi allowed at least two different people the option to take the vaccine in lieu of finishing out their remaining community service hours. Those documents show one of those offenders owed 33 service hours and was allowed the option to skip the remaining hours in exchange for getting the shot.
Prosecutors say judges offering unique alternatives to community service is nothing new.
"Judges do innovative things like this all the time. For example, you have probably seen or heard in the past the judge would allow your donation of blood instead of community service work or instead of payment of the fine," District Attorney Hillar Moore explained. "If a judge is going to make this offer, I think it's a reasonable one."
Though not everyone in the justice system thinks the incentive is an appropriate offer.
"I don't think the government is necessarily the right entity to be involved in me injecting something into my body," Defense Attorney Jarrett Ambeau said. "Judge Crifasi himself, individually, is incredibly fair. The point is when a government actor steps in to ask you to do something like, 'will I suffer for not doing it?' And that is the question."
Moore said anyone who's uncomfortable with the offer can always opt to not take the deal.
"These judges in these circumstances are being totally reasonable, but I do understand that someone may think that way. And if that's the case, don't get vaccinated," Moore said.
Judge Crifasi released the following statement Wednesday.
"This is my point of view: Getting vaccinated is a service to the community. We are currently in a serious predicament in Louisiana. So, if a probation candidate is inclined to get vaccinated, I will grant credit for that effort towards any requirement of community service. The amount of hours varies and depends on the person’s circumstances. It is not a mandate. If a person is not inclined, they do not have to do it. They will simply need to meet their requirement through the usual avenue of completing approved service."
In addition to the option being offered to some in the 19th Judicial District Court, the Department of Corrections said inmates at state prisons are being offered a different incentive for getting the shot. A DOC spokesperson said Tuesday those offenders still in prison were being offered $5 in "canteen credit" for getting the shot. About 68 percent of inmates were vaccinated as of Tuesday.
Louisiana is currently seeing a surge in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. As of Monday, more than 1,200 patients were in Louisiana hospitals with the virus, way up from the 259 patients who were in the hospital on July 1.
Along with the increase in new cases, the state also reported a jump in vaccine doses administered in the past week.