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COVID shot or community service? Hall judges offering incentive for vaccination
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A few needles might save dozens of hours of community service for some who take an option presented by Hall County judges.

Superior Court judges have recently offered credit for community service hours to defendants who provide proof of receiving the COVID-19 vaccination.

Court administrator Jason Stephenson said the sentencing option is not uniform across the board.

“Each individual judge may include some of that sentencing to where an offender who goes and receives the vaccine can receive credit on some of their community service hours, and the number of hours of credit may vary even from judge to judge,” Stephenson said.

The court administrator said the idea was discussed in March but its first applications would have been in April.

“This has kind of been in response to national leaders, the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and state health officials all agree that ending the pandemic will require a coordinated and shared commitment to taking every precaution we can, and those same leaders agree that the vaccine is the best and most effective precaution we can take,” Stephenson said.

One offer in a case closed last month would give 40 hours of credit toward the total 80 hours if the defendant showed proof of full vaccination within the next three months.

Stephenson said the option is completely voluntary, as there is no consequence or sanction involved for those that choose not to get vaccinated.

“If you take half a day off of work twice to go receive it, then it may be appropriate for you to get some credit towards the obligation that your sentence says is owed to your community,” he said.

There is currently no time commitment on saying how long judges might offer this, Stephenson said.

He said the community service credit hours for receiving the vaccine has been included in a few dozen cases over the past six to seven weeks.

“The court does not track how many individuals have received the credit,” Stephenson said.

The Times contacted Chief Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin and Superior Court Judge Bonnie Oliver, but was directed to Stephenson for questions.

Senior Assistant Public Defender Andy Maddox said it has been offered at “pretty much every plea.”

“Obviously if someone has (a) long prison sentence then I don’t recall it being offered,” Maddox said.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 37% of Georgians have at least one dose and 30% of Georgians are fully vaccinated.

In Hall County, 29% of residents have one dose and 24% are fully vaccinated, according to data available Tuesday, May 18.

Whether the incentive has been enticing for his previous clients, Maddox said probation officials are responsible for the credit and he was not sure how many have taken advantage of it.

The Times left a message with the misdemeanor probation office and called the Department of Community Supervision, which handles felony probation, to see if defendants were taking advantage of the incentive.

DCS spokesman Jamelle Washington did not provide an answer to questions before press time Tuesday.

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