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Some people on probation in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are being allowed to get a COVID-19 vaccine instead of completing their court-mandated community service hours.
19th Judicial District Court Judge Fred Crifasi in East Baton Rouge is offering the choice during a swift uptick in cases in the state, as well as the entire country, largely thanks to the Delta variant’s spread to unvaccinated individuals. And it’s working. Crifasi debuted the idea this week in court, and already at least two people have taken him up on the offer, according to local station WBRZ.
One offender was allowed to skip his remaining 33 hours of community service in exchange for a full dose of a COVID vaccine. Another had four hours left to serve.
“I don’t think the community loses out on this one,” defense attorney Franz Borghardt told local station WAFB 9. “In fact, I think there’s a strong argument the community wins.”
Although vaccine mandates are becoming more common, the judge’s offer is optional—that’s what makes it perfectly legal, Borghardt explained. Offenders can deny the vaccine and complete their service hours, no questions asked.
“It’s discretionary, it’s optional for the defendant,” Borghardt told the station. “If the defendant says, ‘Hey, I don’t want to do this. I want to do community service.’ Knock yourself out.”
The idea of swapping hours for other acts of service, however, isn’t novel. For example, judges might offer an exchange of hours for donating blood, District Attorney Hillar Moore told WBRZ.
The local DA also supports the idea.
“What do you want someone doing right now?” Moore told WAFB 9. “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?”
Some incarcerated people in Louisiana are also being given similar incentives. Officials have offered a $5 canteen credit to inmates who get vaccinated—and 85 percent of them have opted in, according to The Advocate. Alabama is giving the same offer.
Cases of COVID in the U.S. have nearly tripled since early this month, largely in unvaccinated people, who have also experienced the vast majority of deaths. A vaccinated person is less likely to spread COVID, including the highly contagious Delta variant, and if they do come down with the illness, they’re less likely to experience severe symptoms or be hospitalized.