DENVER — For the last year, officials at Denver’s Downtown Detention Center have tried to vaccinate as many inmates as possible — a job made easier once incentives kicked in.
“As of today, we have reached 4,350 vaccines that we have been able to give prior to the incentive," said Carmen Kassatly, health services administrator for Denver Health and Denver Sheriff Department. "I think we were lucky to maybe even achieve about 1,000."
The incentives began last year. Inmates who were vaccinated could choose from 10 servings of ramen noodles or five servings of noodles and coffee. The incentives plus education on the vaccine boosted vaccination numbers.
“The numbers that we have today — with only five people being positive — is attributable also to the vaccine rate that we have inside of our facilities, as well as the lower counts that are happening in the community,” said Sheriff Elias Diggins.
Diggins says the department plans to continue offering the vaccine so those in custody, if they so choose, can return to their communities vaccinated.
However, lack of staffing has made the sheriff's job more difficult. Last summer, there were 200 open positions. One year later, it hasn’t gotten much better.
“We're actually 250 deputies below our roster," Diggins said. "We haven't seen numbers this low for our staffing in quite some time, probably since I started 28 years ago."
Those shortages have resonated throughout the detention center.
“Sometimes we have to increase the number of hours, the deputies have to work overtime," Diggins said. "We've had to adjust different things, like do we actually need to make sure that other parts of our agency outside of the jails are working during certain periods of time?”
A new class of 25 recruits — which will join an already graduated class of 12 people — brings hope to the department.
“We also want to keep the great folks that are working here as well," Diggins said. "I've actually deemed 2022 the year of retention for the Denver Sheriff Department."
While the detention center continues to see a decreased number of positive cases and increased vaccination rates, there’s also optimism the work environment for deputies will improve.