New COVID-19 infections in prisons have dropped in recent months, from their highest peaks in mid-December of between 6 and 7 percent to new lows not seen since last April. This week saw an increase of less than 1 percent from the week before. And in many states visiting rooms are starting to open again. Due to the improvements with respect to the pandemic on the inside, the need for the newsletter has also declined. Accordingly, around April 15th, I am discontinuing this website and it's companion newsletter. Issue 16 of the newsletter will be the last one.
Yonas Kahsai had been transferred to one of the places in Pima County hardest hit by the pandemic. The state prison in Tucson has had the highest rate of COVID-19 and the lowest rate of vaccinations in the county. The University of Arizona says "we need to do more to target vaccinations in areas with high past burden of COVID-19 disease because that’s an indicator of current risk.”
Dominick Pugliese applied to a federal judge for companionate release due to underlying health conditions. The prosecutor objected, saying he had not served sufficient time, while also questioning the seriousness of his medical issues. Pugliese’s petitions to be released were dismissed multiple times. Then it happened. Pugliese became one of nearly 2,000 inmates at the federal prison in Burlington County to contract the virus. He died in prison, as he had feared. Read more at: Then it happened. Pugliese became one of nearly 2,000 inmates at the federal prison in Burlington County to contract the virus.
A judge ruled this week that five prisons in California must install surveillance cameras in areas where disabled inmates gather and guards must wear body cameras.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken on Thursday also ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to reform policies on how abuse of inmates by staffers is investigated, The Sacramento Bee reported.
About 25% of inmates in Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) prisons have been vaccinated. According to MDOC Spokesperson Chris Gautz, “All prisoners over the age of 50 have now had the ability to get the vaccine.” He said those 65 years old and older were given the vaccine last month. Beginning this week, any prisoner over the age of 50 who wanted the vaccine was able to get it. “About 25 percent of our prison population has been vaccinated,” Gautz said. That equates to about 8,000 inmates.
The Oregon Department of Corrections had offered COVID-19 vaccines to all its 13,200 inmates, the agency announced Wednesday. More than 9,156 people in custody have received the vaccine, meaning the prison system has vaccinated 69% of its population with at least one dose. Attorneys representing Oregon’s inmates say it’s among the quickest and broadest vaccine rollouts for incarcerated people in the country, though it wasn’t something state officials were planning to do on their own.
As vaccine rollouts continue across the country, many prisoners are skeptical about receiving their shots. In Danbury, Connecticut, more than 200 inmates at a federal prison declined to get the vaccine, including numerous medically vulnerable prisoners, reported the Associated Press.
Three months into Florida’s vaccination efforts, Gov. Ron DeSantis has yet to make vaccines available to state prisons, even as corrections officials have requested doses and identified thousands of elderly inmates who meet the state’s eligibility requirements. Bov. DeSantis has “made it clear” he will not prioritize inmates..."
Prison systems and the more than 11 million prisoners worldwide have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. It’s estimated there are more than 527,000 prisoners who have become infected with the virus in 122 countries with more than 3,800 fatalities in 47 countries. With limited testing capacity in many jurisdictions and the rapidly evolving situation, the actual number may be much higher.
Prisons, jails, and detention centers are a prime environment for the spread of COVID-19. Crowded conditions do not allow for social distancing and access to hygiene products and medical care is unreliable. Poor conditions within prisons also lead to high rates of chronic health conditions for incarcerated people, including asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease—increasing their chances of complications if they contract COVID-19. As of January 19, 2021, almost 356,000 incarcerated people had tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 2,000 had died. But that’s probably an undercount, as many facilities don’t provide testing.
Between Feb. 22 and March 5, the department reported 87 new cases among inmates, reaching a total of 4,215. The system has a population of 18,000 inmates; if that population held steady over the course of a year, that would mean 23.4% of all inmates had tested positive for COVID-19. Because of inmate turnover, however, that percentage is likely somewhat lower. In the same period, correctional staff cases grew by 30, to a total of 2,094 — about 41.3% of the state’s 5,074 officers have tested positive for COVID-19. At least 926 of the approximately 1,040 inmates considered vulnerable to the disease have received at least one vaccine dose and 570 have been fully inoculated, according to the department.
So many people in California’s prisons have been infected with COVID-19 that at least seven of the institutions have crossed a threshold for herd immunity, a Sacramento Bee review of infection data found. More than 70% of inmates have tested positive for the illness at the seven prisons, enough to minimize the potential for further spread, experts say. So many people in California’s prisons have been infected with COVID-19 that at least seven of the institutions have crossed a threshold for herd immunity, a Sacramento Bee review of infection data found. More than 70% of inmates have tested positive for the illness at the seven prisons, enough to minimize the potential for further spread, experts say.
The more-contagious COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa has been confirmed in Colorado for the first time, with three cases detected in a Chaffee County prison that’s experiencing its third coronavirus outbreak, state health officials announced Sunday night. Two Buena Vista Correctional Complex staffers and one of the prison’s inmates have tested positive for the B.1.351 variant, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said.
A Tennessee advisory panel tasked with deciding in what order residents should receive the COVID-19 vaccine acknowledged that prison inmates in the state were high-risk, but concluded that prioritizing them for inoculation could be a “public relations nightmare.” The result: Prisoners are in the last group scheduled for vaccines in the state.
A COVID-19 outbreak at a state prison in Cumberland County has renewed calls for corrections officers to be prioritized for the vaccine. Over a three-day span, nearly 400 people have been infected at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill — including over 30 guards. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections said 1599 inmates were tested in the Camp Hill facility and 352 tested positive.
According to the release issued on Friday, 59 inmates at the Yakima County Jail have contracted COVID-19 as a result of this outbreak. Additionally, 14 staff members are confirmed to have contracted the virus due to this outbreak. The Yakima Health District’s investigation into this outbreak reportedly began on February 10, 2021, when they were alerted to multiple positive COVID-19 tests from staff members at the county jail.
A correctional officer at Thomson Federal Prison in Thomson, Ill. has died from COVID-19, while 15 more staff and six inmates are currently positive with the virus. Federal prisons have been devastated by coronavirus, exacerbated by transferring infected inmates between facilities. According to Bureau of Prisons data, more than one in three inmates and nearly one in five staff members have contracted COVID-19 in federal prisons across the country since the beginning of the pandemic. To date, 46,982 inmates have tested positive.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, called attention to the high rate of COVID-19 infections among inmates and staff at federal prisons during a Feb. 23 hearing with Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and other CDC officials. Bustos said the former Trump Administration was responsible for the lack of testing and a failure to follow CDC guidance.
Nevada Department of corrections inmates have started receiving COVID-19 vaccines, NDOC reported Thursday. Inmates 65 and older are eligible to receive the vaccines. By Thursday afternoon, a third of those who requested to be vaccinated received their first dose. “We are pleased to get this effort underway,” Deputy Director William Quenga said in a statement. “Keeping our staff and offenders healthy and safe is our top priority.” At Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, 44 inmates received the Moderna vaccine Thursday. More clinics are scheduled throughout the month. Forty-six percent of the 10,866 offenders statewide signed up to be vaccinated.
Covid-19 has exposed the inadequacy of the public health infrastructure in the United States and forced us to confront associated biosocial dynamics that are driving the pandemic, including poverty, structural racism, distrust, unequal access to health care, and other social sources. But perhaps no collective preexisting condition has been more acute and preventable than that associated with the U.S. system of mass incarceration.
After a long struggle led by prison justice activists, the Illinois COVID-19 vaccination plan now includes prison inmates, who are starting to receive the vaccine along with prison guards and essential workers. To be sure, vaccination is a good and necessary step. Yet it is not all that is needed and does not make up for the terrible horrors inmates and their loved ones, especially their mothers, have endured throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Antwain Steward is one of the thousands of inmates in Virginia correctional facilities who have contracted the coronavirus. Not long after a corrections officer tested positive for COVID-19, Steward said his cell block was shut down for an outbreak in the prison. “And it sprea`d quickly … the whole block lost their sense of smell, taste, fevers, everything like that,” Steward said. “It was like walking dead in here.” During the outbreak, he said he and his fellow inmates were not given proper medical care or even treated with proper respect.
“We were basically in a black hole, like no one cared. The warden didn’t even come back here not one time to check on us,” Steward said.
California relies on thousands of inmates to fight massive wildfires, churn out vehicle license plates, mop prison floors and myriad other tasks - all for wages that rarely top a few dollars a day. Opponents want to end what they call a visage of slavery. They propose to amend the state Constitution's ban on indentured servitude to remove an exemption for people who are being punished for crimes. The state's current wording dates from 1974 and reads, "Slavery is prohibited. Involuntary servitude is prohibited except to punish crime." The proposed amendment would change the wording to, "Slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited." Proponents noted that similar changes have already been adopted in the more conservative states of Colorado, Nebraska and Utah. The Abolish Slavery National Network says similar efforts are underway in New Jersey and South Carolina. Changing the U.S. Constitution would take approval from two-thirds of states.
While some states have begun offering COVID-19 vaccines to stateinmates, those incarcerated in Alabama have not yet had a chance to receive the potentially life-saving inoculations. This, despite Alabama prisons ranking as eighth highest in COVID-19 deaths in the nation, per 100,000 inmates, according to a joint project by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press.
Imprisoned people “can’t see friends, and they can’t maintain consistent contact with supports, but they also can’t go to mental health programming,” said Stefen Short, the Supervising Attorney of the Prisoners’ Rights Project run by the New York-based Legal Aid Society. “Well then what’s available to this person? At the middle of a global pandemic, when everybody’s at heightened anxiety, our clients are getting absolutely no support.”
The state has agreed to release at least 3,500 inmates over the next six months after a settlement was reached in a lawsuit on Thursday. The NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union, and others sued the state prison system back in April over COVID-19 conditions. The releases will be in addition to regular releases as people finish their prison sentences. If the settlement is approved, the state will have three months to release 1,500 inmates and three more months to release an additional 2,000.
Yes, inmates have received stimulus checks in the past and will likely be eligible for additional COVID-19 relief money if and when lawmakers agree on the next round of coronavirus aid. The IRS inspector general confirmed the federal agency did send stimulus checks to prisoners last spring. When Congress passed the CARES Act to authorize the stimulus, it included no restrictions on people in jail or prison getting that money. “Because Congress did not exclude people in prison or jail, the IRS had no choice but to issue the payments to incarcerated people who otherwise qualified,” explained the Prison Policy Initiative as it analyzed this issue in December.
About 40% of people in the custody of California’s corrections system have received the COVID-19 vaccine, a figure praised by prison advocates who say that only a fraction of the state’s vaccine is needed to protect a population that’s one of the most vulnerable to the virus.
Three weeks into the CT Department of Correction’s vaccinations of the incarcerated population, 837 inmates — less than 10% of the 9,034 people in prisons and jails as of Feb. 22 — have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The department received another 500 doses Tuesday morning. Department Director of External Affairs Karen Martucci said the DOC has used all of the shots it has received and is seeking more.
A Maryland inmate tested positive for the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19, according to the Maryland DOC. The variants, which include a Brazil strain known as P.1 and the South African variant B.1.351, are more contagious than the original strain of the coronavirus. About 1,300 cases have been detected nationwide of the three common variants, most being the U.K. variant, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.K. variant is expected to become the dominant strain in the United States by the end of March.
Advocates for detainees inside Maryland’s Chesapeake Detention Facility filed a federal lawsuit Saturday alleging that a host of unsanitary conditions fostered a coronavirus outbreak that affected 234 inmates and employees.
The class-action lawsuit, filed in Baltimore’s U.S. District Court, alleges among other things that guards in the pretrial facility of 400 detainees rarely wore masks and that healthy detainees were forced into contaminated cells that had not been sanitized.
In one case, a woman who was new to the facility was kept in a cell flanked on both sides by cells that contained male detainees who had recently tested positive for the coronavirus. In another, a male detainee was forced to stay in the same cell with a cellmate who was clearly showing symptoms of infection, including coughing and a fever, the suit states.
As of Feb. 20th, 169 inmates and 80 staff members at the Chesapeake site were infected, according to the DPSCS website. Overall, across the state detention system, 4,067 inmates and 2,073 employees were infected.
The lawsuit also seeks to have a judge order officials to distribute masks and other protective equipment and provide the detainees with liquid hand soap and paper towels so they can regularly wash their hands.
The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association (PSCOA) renews its call for the Wolf administration and the new COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force to prioritize vaccinating corrections officers in state prisons over smokers.
It’s one thing to follow CDC guidelines regarding smokers, but that doesn’t prevent the administration from making the vaccination of its own corrections officers a higher priority. Our state prison system continues to be overwhelmed by COVID, but for some reason the Wolf administration has decided to ignore its own corrections officers, who are risking their lives every day in some of the worst conditions of this pandemic. Recently, over 800 inmates and officers tested positive at SCI-Forest.
Our members are overworked, exhausted and are working massive amounts of overtime due to COVID-19 illnesses within their ranks. The mental anguish of passing the virus to their loved ones also takes a tremendous toll.
That’s why the decision by the administration to put smokers ahead of corrections officers is repugnant. It’s our hope the task force will right this wrong and take care of the people working in some of the worst pandemic conditions in this commonwealth.
John Eckenrode, President PSCOA, Harrisburg, Pa.
Twelve of Michigan’s prison facilities are reporting a 75% infection rate since testing began. Nowhere in Michigan has the prevalence of the coronavirus been as pervasive as it is among the prison population. The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) responded to rampant outbreaks with ongoing mass testing that reveals infection rates approaching what medical professionals refer to as herd immunity, the level of immunity that must exist before a virus has no available hosts and can die off. Herd immunity, however, was never the goal.
Twelve of Michigan’s prison facilities are reporting a 75% infection rate since testing began. Seven of those facilities report 80% of prisoners tested have contracted the virus. A total 25,039 prisoners among 40,603 tested since the pandemic began had tested positive as of Feb. 17, nearly 62%. Prison staff infection rates are lower -- about 27% of staff have tested positive among about 13,000 employees -- but remain much higher than the nearly 6% of Michigan residents who’ve tested positive. Four correctional officers and 138 prisoners have died after contracting COVID-19.
Prisoners are defecating in paper bags and overflowing toilets, there aren’t enough extra blankets to go around, and mess hall kitchens are churning out half-rations of unidentifiable cold food. As a snowstorm walloped the Lone Star State and led to widespread power outages, prisoners and corrections officers agree: Already-dire conditions inside Texas prisons somehow got even worse.
Officials said 33 prisons lost power and 20 had water shortages after the state’s electrical grid failed for several days during single-digit temperatures. Though the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said generators kept electricity on, staff, prisoners and their families reported frigid—and increasingly horrific—conditions around the system. To make matters worse, more than a dozen prisons lost some or all of their access to water.
Officials said 33 prisons lost power and 20 had water shortages after the state’s electrical grid failed for several days during single-digit temperatures. Though the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said generators kept electricity on, staff, prisoners and their families reported frigid—and increasingly horrific—conditions around the system.
The coronavirus has run rampant across Wisconsin's prisons, infecting at least 2,153 staff members at adult institutions and 10,786 inmates throughout the pandemic — more than half of the inmate population. The state has detected infections among inmates at a rate more than five times higher than in the general population.
The Virginia DOC has administered a COVID-19 vaccine to more than half of its inmates and staff members. “Medical staff at the Virginia DOC worked intently with Virginia Department of Health (VDH) officials, following CDC guidelines, as vaccines approached and received emergency approval,” the Virginia DOC said in a statement on Thursday, Feb. 18. “The DOC then started a massive education campaign to help inmates make informed decisions about the vaccine. Taking the vaccine is voluntary.” The department says more than 13,000 inmates — all of whom are scheduled to receive their second dose — and more than 6,000 staff members have received the first of two Moderna COVID-19 shots as of Thursday.
A Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied an emergency request to reduce the state prison population to slow the spread of COVID-19, ruling that although conditions inside the facilities “continue to deprive inmates of basic needs,” the state hasn’t violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
State prison inmates in Pennsylvania are getting paid to get the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the Department of Corrections, the money is not coming from any taxpayer funded accounts. If everyone gets the vaccine and builds immunity, there will be less likelihood of exposure or transmission. Additionally, once an inmate receives both doses, $25 will be added to the inmate’s account. This statewide inmate incentive comes from the Inmate General Welfare Fund which is NOT taxpayer funding.
COVID-19 vaccinations have begun in Kansas prisons, with 653 inmates at five different facilities receiving a first dose of the vaccine, according to the Kansas DoC. The arrival of the vaccine has been a welcome relief for many in the Kansas prison system, which has one of the highest infection rates in the country. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 6,047 of the state’s inmates have been infected. Among all U.S. states, Kansas has the fourth highest infection rate among inmates in state facilities, according to the COVID Prison Project, behind Arkansas, Michigan and Connecticut.
There is a proposal to push many prisoners to the back of the COVID-19 vaccine line. In Wisconsin, prisoners will soon get their shots with group 1B, based on Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention guidelines. However, under State Senate Bill 8, DHS would not be allowed to prioritize the vaccination of prisoners before the general public.
The Eagle X Pro corona discharge system, produced in the U.S. by a Nevada-based company, uses innovative technology to produce billions of positively and negatively charged oxygen ions, which are injected into a building's HVAC system and distributed throughout its indoor climate-controlled spaces. These charged ions combine with water molecules to create an airborne hydroperoxide compound that attacks any virus, bacteria, mold or other pathogen in the indoor space. Upon contact, a chemical reaction takes place that breaks down the structure of these pathogens and neutralizes them.
The state health department has identified 90 cases of the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 at a prison in West Michigan. The cases were identified through daily testing of all prisoners and staff at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia. Of the 90 new cases, 88 are prisoners and two are employees, according to a news release issued Tuesday by Michigan State Police. The facility began daily testing last week after a case of the B.1.1.7 variant, known as the U.K. variant, was confirmed in a staff member on Feb. 8.
As a winter storm wreaked havoc on Texas, about 1,000 women at the federal medical prison in Fort Worth were left without heat in freezing temperatures, according to women in the prison and family members of women incarcerated there. The prison is the only federal medical facility for women in the country, and most people incarcerated there have medical problems. As of Tuesday, 31 women officially still had COVID-19, according to BOP data, although many more were still sick from the virus.
In March and April, former Attorney General William Barr recommended that federal inmates who were convicted of nonviolent crimes, are immunocompromised and don’t pose a risk to society should be prioritized for home confinement. But less than 14% of the more than 150,000 federal inmates, the majority of whom were convicted of nonviolent crimes, have been released to home confinement since last spring, according to the Bureau of Prisons website.
COVID-19 outbreaks continue within several Arizona state prisons. There are thousands of positive cases, and dozens of deaths, among inmates and staff - even spilling into the community. There is a lot more happening behind the scenes, that is now being exposed. “The public is at risk right now from COVID and from the lack of security that we have and from the lack of leadership from a director.
As coronavirus outbreaks rage at several Oregon prisons, inmates at a minimum-security facility in Salem are pushing for changes after they say administrators sent dozens of inmates who had just tested positive for COVID-19 back into the general population. Inmates at the Santiam Correctional Institution said they’re increasingly concerned about the way administrators are handling the pandemic and believe the Oregon Department of Corrections has knowingly placed inmates in danger.
The Utah Department of Corrections officials confirmed last week the first coronavirus outbreak to occur in female housing at the state prison since the beginning of the pandemic. The outbreak at the Timpanogos facility in Draper has affected “several” women, who started experiencing symptoms early last week. They then received rapid tests for COVID-19, which came back positive, officials say. Corrections officials didn’t release the exact number of women who have tested positive.
Inmates in Idaho’s jails and prisons are at a high risk of coming into contact with COVID-19 but have yet to be categorized as group for priority vaccination. Idaho’s vaccine supply is limited, but inmate vaccination is a measure that attorneys, physicians and judges say is necessary to maintain not only due process, but also the health and safety of entire communities.
Inmates in Idaho’s jails and prisons are at a high risk of coming into contact with COVID-19 but have yet to be categorized as group for priority vaccination. Idaho’s vaccine supply is limited, but inmate vaccination is a measure that attorneys, physicians and judges say is necessary to maintain not only due process, but also the health and safety of entire communities.
One in five people who have been in North Carolina’s prisons since March have tested positive for COVID-19, matching the national average for prison infections. One in four prison staff members have tested positive, according to data from the N.C. Department of Public Safety, which oversees state prisons. That’s compared with one out of 13 people testing positive for the virus statewide. Because inmates and prison staff are much more likely to be Black than North Carolina’s population as a whole, the outbreaks happening behind prison walls are disproportionately harming Black people and Black communities in North Carolina.
More than half of workers in the state’s Department of Correction— about 3,000 — have refused a coronavirus vaccine, according to state data. The workers are part of the more than 5,400 correctional personnel and contracted healthcare staff employed across the state prison system. The significant number of refusals reflect a weaknesses in a system that has contributed to the deaths of at least 19 people in the state’s prisons, with a population of about 6,500.
San Quentin State Prison is facing the largest single penalty in the state over workplace safety violations for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, resulting in the deaths of 28 inmates and one correctional officer and a total of 2,200 confirmed cases.
California’s oldest penitentiary was slapped with a $421,880 fine based on a June inspection that found numerous violations, including failing to report deaths and injuries in a timely manner and failing to isolate new arriving inmates infected with the virus, according to a report by the California Division of Occupations Safety and Health. The fine is nearly double the highest ever issued to any facility.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision on Friday began administering COVID-19 vaccines to older inmates. Advocates announced that the state would begin vaccinating incarcerated individuals age 65 and older. The Release Aging People in Prison Campaign said it was in response to a lawsuit. New York's 1B priority group for the COVID-19 vaccine includes workers in several fields, including corrections officers. But the vaccine wasn't initially available for inmates in the facilities, even if they were eligible based on their age. The 1B group also includes people 65 and older.
The Texas prison system has administered more than 5,500 doses of the coronavirus vaccine, but none have been given to inmates who qualify for the shot under the state’s current phase of the rollout. More than 240 state inmates have died after contracting the coronavirus — about two of every 1,000 inmates — according to prison death reports analyzed by the Texas Justice Initiative.
Altogether, 96 state prisoners and four staff have died after contracting COVID-19, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. There have been at least 13,000 confirmed cases in the state prisons — 3,895 among staff and 9,431 among incarcerated people — an infection rate more than three times higher than in Pennsylvania as a whole. At the same time, advocates say officials are not acting with requisite urgency to reduce the prison population, which state leaders agree is central to mitigating the spread of the virus. A reprieve process introduced by Gov. Tom Wolf in April resulted in only around 160 releases, out of a prison population of around 40,000.
COVID cases in New York prisons and detention centers continue to place a strain on corrections officers, staff, and inmates across the state. Over the last 11 months, more than 4,000 prison staff in New York have tested positive for COVID-19. Seven have died. Corrections officers’ union president Mike Powers says the year has been a strain on his members. "It's a very stressful time for our members because they're coming and going," said Mike Powers, the president of the New York State Correctional Officers PBA, the union that represents corrections officers. "They're entering the facilities sometimes at 16 hour days. Many of them are being bogged down for 16 hour days."
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on dismissed the idea of vaccinating prison inmates for COVID-19 ahead of seniors, despite the skyrocketing death rates in the state’s prison system. More than 23,000 inmates in Florida’s prison system are more than 50 years old, according to state records, and the situation in Florida’s prison system is deteriorating.
Republican lawmakers in Kansas, on February 2nd, moved toward formally condemning Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s decision to give prison inmates COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of others, as her administration sought to address problems in providing benefits to workers left jobless by the pandemic.
Even though Maine prisoners live in crowded, congregate settings, and some are older and have underlying health conditions, it’s unclear when they’ll get their shots. Incarcerated people are four times more likely to get COVID than the general public, and as corrections officers begin rolling up their sleeves, advocates are pressing state officials to make prisoners a priority.
A federal judge on February 2nd ordered Oregon officials to offer state prison inmates COVID-19 vaccines, immediately. U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman granted a temporary restraining order brought as part of a larger case by a group of prison inmates. They’ve criticized the state’s response to the pandemic inside prisons and argue it’s violated the U.S. Constitution. Beckerman’s ruling applies to more than 12,000 inmates who live in one of the state’s 14 prisons. “Defendants shall offer all [Adults in Custody] housed in [Oregon Department of Corrections] facilities, who have not been offered a COVID-19 vaccine, a COVID-19 vaccine ...” she wrote.
California prison system officials created a “public health disaster” at San Quentin and Corcoran prisons last year by transferring inmates from other prisons through a poorly-planned and rushed process while COVID-19 rates were spiking across the state, according to a damning report by a state oversight agency. The 69-page report by the Office of the Inspector General, found that transfers to San Quentin from the California Institution for Men in Chino made in the spring and summer of 2020, “were deeply flawed and risked the health and lives of thousands of incarcerated persons and staff.” The report found staff relied on outdated or inadequate testing, that officials were pressured to rush the transfers, and that staff who raised concerns were largely ignored.
A car caravan took over the Bay Bridge Sunday to send a message to Governor Gavin Newsom. Protesters are demanding that the governor grant mass releases for prisoners in the state amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
More than 16,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed inside prisons and jails in Colorado since the pandemic began, according to a new report published by the Colorado Health Institute. The report gives the public the clearest picture we’ve seen into just how rampant the spread of the virus has been inside correctional facilities. "An alarming number of people in jails and prisons in Colorado have contracted COVID-19," said Char Gilbert. "For every 1,000 people incarcerated in Colorado prisons, 557 prisoners have contracted COVID-19."
As COVID-19 cases spread last fall in Oregon’s prisons, Laurie Howard feared for her brother, an inmate at Deer Ridge Correctional Institution. Howard’s concern grew as quickly as the virus in Deer Ridge. To date, 275 inmates have tested positive and four have died out of a population of about 675, according to the Oregon Health Authority. Statewide, 3,346 inmates have contracted the virus and 42 have died. Prison staff statewide have 795 confirmed cases, as of the latest data released Jan. 28.
The rapid spread of new variants of the coronavirus, some of which seem to be more contagious than older versions, has experts in the US calling for stricter social distancing and better masking to avoid yet another big surge of new Covid-19 cases and deaths. Health advocates and epidemiologists are particularly concerned about what will happen once the new variants find their way into prisons, jails, and immigration detention facilities. One study found that the 2.3 million Americans living behind bars have twice the risk of dying from Covid-19 as a similar person who is not.
Most North Carolina prisoners can get five days knocked off their sentences if they receive COVID-19 vaccinations, state corrections officials said. A package of incentives, which also include extra visitations and a free 10-minute phone call, were unveiled a few weeks after prison leaders said they were considering ways to motivate prisoners to obtain the two necessary doses.
Three Oregon prisoners were interviewed. They said COVID-positive inmates put into cells or dorms with other inmates who had not tested positive, in direct violation of the policies and protocols issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Together, their stories shed light on a dire situation in Oregon’s prisons, where COVID cases have spiked dramatically, prisoners are afraid and frustrated, and many, including Alexander Vazquez, an inmate at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla County, expressed a feeling of hopelessness. “It’s just a matter of time before everyone gets infected here,” he said.
The Des Moines Black Liberation Movement and other local groups are calling on Iowa to do more to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Iowa prisons. BLM, along with groups like the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America and Showing Up For Racial Justice, held a news conference unveiling a list of demands for government agencies, including the Iowa Department of Corrections.
Outbreaks at prisons, jails and other correctional facilities across Colorado account for one in every 24 cases of COVID-19 in the state, according to a recent study by the Colorado Health Institute. The study comes as inmates remain excluded from the state’s priority list for vaccines, despite federal guidance and other states that prioritizes prisoners.
COVID-19 has infected more than 3,000 inmates and 500 employees in Kentucky’s local jails since the pandemic began 10 months ago, according to a state public health database obtained by the Herald-Leader.
A federal inspection into the Butner Federal Correctional Complex’s handling of COVID-19 outbreaks found improper usage of masks, risky movements of inmates and difficulties following the U.S. attorney general’s directive to step up releasing at-risk inmates. Butner is home to one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the federal prison system. According to the federal Bureau of Prisons’ website, more than 1,200 inmates have tested positive for the virus, 28 have died from COVID-related complications.
California officials use different approaches to count in-custody deaths tied to the coronavirus. Reporting mistakes and delays at the state level in tracking inmate deaths from the virus. These issues have led to deaths going uncounted.
People in custody, their families and defense attorneys told OPB they can clearly see the Oregon prison system is overwhelmed by the virus. Some of those critics point to an April decision as a key moment that led to the current crisis.
At the time, the Department of Corrections estimated it would need to release 5,800 inmates to create enough social distance to slow the pandemic — roughly 40% of Oregon’s prisoners. They also outlined other scenarios with fewer releases.
Inmates 70 and older at the Utah State Prison got their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Monday as part of a statewide effort to inoculate older Utahns. Meanwhile the Utah Department of Health reported 859 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths on Jan. 25th.
Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont announced rough time frames for when every group in Connecticut would become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine — every group, that is, except for residents of congregate settings such as emergency shelters, group homes and prisons.
The Georgia NAACP claims in a federal lawsuit that Georgia prison inmates are unreasonably exposed to COVID-19 because the staff does not follow safety protocols and provides inadequate testing and protective equipment for prisoners. The U.S. District Court lawsuit, filed in Atlanta against the Georgia Department of Corrections and a contractor on behalf of three inmates, singles out the Coffee County Correctional Facility, which has reported the most infected inmates in the state’s prison system. The lawsuit says many prisoners are sleeping too close to each other without masks and that inmates with symptoms often are not getting tested. According to the corrections department, 235 Coffee inmates have tested positive and the facility has had five COVID-19 related deaths.
Tennessee’s updated vaccine distribution plan adds corrections officers and jailers to its first priority phase, while tens of thousands of people incarcerated in the state’s prisons and jails, remain in the last phase of distribution before the vaccine becomes widely available to the general public. The state’s jails and prisons have been host to rolling outbreaks since the pandemic began. In May, two of the worst COVID-19 hot spots in the country were in Tennessee prisons. To date, 39 incarcerated people in the state have died after testing positive for the illness, along with four Tennessee Department of Correction staffers.
“COVID has demonstrated that we can reduce prison and jail capacities. We can do it,” Krabbenhoft said in a phone interview this week with the Herald. “...I think it can be done without a negative impact to public safety. Granted, I don’t think it happened without stress and without issues when those numbers went down. But I would hope that we could learn some lessons.” Dave Krabbenhoft, the interim director of North Dakota’s corrections department.
That’s because Illinois is one of just a handful of U.S. states that will prioritize incarcerated people in the next phase of its vaccine rollout. This development represents a victory for advocates and incarcerated people who have argued that prisons and jails are overlooked epicenters of infections. A December study from the Prison Policy Initiative found that higher concentrations of incarcerated people in U.S. counties were associated with earlier reported cases of COVID-19 and larger increases of confirmed cases outside of prisons and jails from May to August 2020.
With Wende Correctional Facility recording the fourth-highest Covid-19 positivity rate among the state's prisons, inmate Taiwu Jenkins is terrified of catching the virus "and dying in here." So Jenkins, 47, has sued for his release, saying his asthma, high cholesterol, obesity and two medications that suppress his immune system make him significantly more susceptible to serious illness and even death were he to become infected. The number of confirmed Covid-19 infections at Wende went from 31 in November to more than 170 in January.
The state put 22,000 inmates and correctional workers near the front of the line for coronavirus vaccinations, but early figures show some inmates and correctional facility employees are forgoing a first dose. In several county jails across the state, only a small sliver of inmates and workers eligible for a voluntary vaccination have acted on the opportunity, with some expressing trepidation about the vaccine.
It was a deadly weekend for the Oregon Department of Corrections, with at least five prison inmates dying between Saturday and Monday while having COVID-19. Four of the inmates were at the Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, while the fifth was in custody at the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution in Madras.
North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety announced Wednesday it has received about 1,000 doses of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine for inmates and prison staff. “The staff have worked so hard for so long with hope and prayer for a better day down the road,” said a statement from Todd Ishee, the state’s commissioner of prisons. “Now the vaccine is arriving at our prisons, and we can see a way to a future without this awful virus controlling so much of our lives. This is an important step.” An additional 300 doses allocated for the prison system are expected to arrive this week.
In a deviation from CDC guidelines, the Pritzker administration is preparing to prioritize prison inmates in the second round of Coronavirus vaccinations, according to an updated distribution plan published by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The state’s first doses of Coronavirus vaccines went to health care workers on the front lines, and to the sick and elderly living in long-term care facilities who faced the highest risk of death in outbreaks. Pritzker’s modified plan for the next round of vaccinations would move prisoners up in the line ahead of adults with heart conditions, COPD, kidney failure, and cancer, not to mention workers in Phase 2 at restaurants, gyms, factories, hair and nail salons, and other industries with workers who face “increased risk of exposure.”
Between Jan. 4 and Jan. 14, five NY prisoners died of the virus while 750 newly tested positive. That lines up with a five-day moving average of 75 daily — a huge jump from the average of around 10 a day recorded in early December, before a holiday season spike. One mother whose son is ailing in an upstate lockup said she was “hurt” — but not surprised — to learn he recently tested positive. “I knew this was bound to happen,” she said. “I didn’t think [he] would be able to save himself from it.”
Two inmates at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla have died in the past week after testing positive for COVID-19, according to the Oregon Department of Corrections. Four people have now died since the beginning of January in the latest surge in cases, the Oregon Department of Corrections said.
Inmates in Santa Clara County’s jails are on a hunger strike as cases of COVID-19 rage through the correctional system amid reports of unsanitary, unsafe and cruel conditions. As of Jan. 14, there were 109 active cases of COVID-19 among county inmates, a slight dip from a high of 127 earlier in the week. Silicon Valley De-Bug, an advocacy and organizing group, said inmates in the county’s main jail will stage a hunger strike beginning Jan. 13 in protest of “conditions of confinement and cruel and unusual punishment” related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The current shelter-in-place policy, implemented by PDP to control the transmission of COVID-19, keeps incarcerated people in their cells for nearly 24 hours a day, and such prolonged confinement is harmful to the mental and physical health of incarcerated individuals,” Berle M. Schiller, senior U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, wrote in an order published January 13th.
Michigan officials will likely never know if the cases of 115 state prisoners who tested positive for COVID-19 for a second time were instances of reinfection. That’s because the state doesn’t have the samples to perform genomic sequencing, an analysis to confirm whether someone has had COVID-19 twice or if a subsequent positive test result is the detection of leftover virus.
When Israel began to vaccinate its citizens against the coronavirus in December, the Ministry of Health set aside doses for incarcerated people 60 and above, in line with its national guidelines prioritizing the age group. They are still sitting in freezers. The minister in charge of Israel’s prison services is refusing to allocate coronavirus vaccines to inmates, said epidemiologist Hagai Levine, who was a member of the country’s coronavirus task force before resigning last week to run in an upcoming election after he voiced concerns with the government’s pandemic response.
Massachusetts will start vaccinating individuals living and working in congregate care facilities and prisons. Some people are wondering why inmates are being prioritized over the general public, most of whom won't get vaccinated until the final phase of the plan. Baker defended the decision to vaccinate prisoners when asked why a convicted murderer, for example, would get higher priority than any other Massachusetts resident. He said people living in close quarters are at high risk, including prisoners. He also noted that there are about thousands of employees who work at the prisons who are also at risk and will be able to get vaccinated at the same time.
At least three Denver Broncos are pushing Governor Jared Polis to release medically-vulnerable inmates during this pandemic.
Justin Simmons, Alexander Johnson and De’Vante Bausby joined the American Civil Liberties Union's campaign as more Colorado inmates get sick with COVID-19. The ACLU wants the governor to use his clemency powers to release at-risk inmates who do not pose a threat to the public.
An inmate in the Utah State Prison is suing the Utah Department of Corrections in an effort to stop the shuffling of large groups of prisoners from one building to the next. Damon Crist says the practice spurred widespread COVID-19 outbreaks at the prison starting in October. The spread has continued in the following months, infecting more than 2,600 inmates, including 12 who later died.
COVID-19 deaths have surged in Nevada prisons over the past four weeks. The Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City is reporting 18 deaths, an increase of 13 since mid-December. Lovelock Correctional Center is reporting 11 deaths, 10 since mid-December. In total, 36 prisoners and 3 staff members have died within the past four months.
Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly, the same stern jurist who in 1995 sentenced Johnny Williams to an exceptional 1,114 months in prison, on Monday ordered Williams released rather than risk his compromised health from exposure to the novel coronavirus that is raging inside federal prisons, including Federal Detention Center-Lompoc (Calif.), where Williams was recently transferred. Williams is one of 42 convicted federal felons in the Western District of Washington granted compassionate release from custody since March, when U.S. District Chief Judge Ricardo Martinez canceled jury trials as the dangers of the pandemic became clear. More than 200 petitions from prisoners seeking compassionate release have been filed, the judge said Wednesday, with more being brought almost every day.
Two inmates who have recently died as the Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Oregon endures the largest surge in COVID-19 cases among prisons in that state, with 235 active cases as of Jan. 6, according to data from the Oregon Department of Corrections.
Two additional inmates have died from coronavirus in Wisconsin’s prison system, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths to 25, according to corrections officials.
The additional deaths come as more than half of the state’s roughly 20,000 prisoners have been infected.
The president of a union representing employees of a federal prison in Williamsburg County is accusing the facility’s leadership of making a decision that led to skyrocketing COVID-19 cases behind bars. “They made some changes on the process of what we were doing ... that allowed COVID to actually walk into the institution,” American Federation of Government Employees’ Local 525 President Stephen Pinckney said. “From there, it spread like wildfire once it got in.”
By our count, at least 1,888 incarcerated individuals have died from Covid-19 and 104 correctional facility staff members have died. Given that Black Americans, who are six times more likely to be incarcerated than White Americans, also face a higher risk of Covid-19 complications in part because of systemic health inequities, it is likely too that they are bearing the brunt of the pandemic in our prisons and jails.
Not only are incarcerated people getting infected and dying at unprecedented rates, but so are the people who work in these facilities. As of early September 2020, prisons and jails accounted for 44 of the top 50 coronavirus hotspots in the U.S. Both their infection rate and their death rate far outpace those in the free community. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people in U.S. prisons are 550% more likely to contract COVID and 300% more likely to die from it than their free world counterparts.
Inmates across Canada are speaking out as COVID-19 infections spread within federal and provincial correctional facilities, with prisoner advocates saying the situation is only getting worse. Corey Watson, an inmate at the Joyce Institution in Kingston, Ont., who tested positive for the novel coronavirus last month, told CTVNews.ca in a video interview that he and others are “basically just waiting for everyone to get it ... You feel powerless.”
In the last 14 days, 250 inmates at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility have tested positive for COVID-19 and eight inmates have died. The number of Coronavirus cases inside of California’s prisons are exploding just as they are across the state. Both inmates and staff at CA state facilities are contracting Coronavirus at alarming rates. The state says they are taking precautions, but a local activist says the inmates are telling her a different story.
December was a catastrophic pandemic month for prison inmates in Kentucky who are stuck behind bars with nowhere to socially distance. Inside the state prisons, the official COVID-19 death toll more than doubled from 17 inmates and two employees on Dec. 1 to 37 inmates and five employees as of Monday, according to data provided by the Kentucky Department of Corrections.
The Department of Corrections has announced that on December 31st, 2020, an inmate at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla died of COVID-19 related illness at a local healthcare facility.
This is the seventh death of an incarcerated individual from COVID-19 in DOC custody, the last death coming on December 26th, 2020. Two Corrections Officers have also died of COVID-19. This is also the second COVID-19 death of an inmate at the Washington State Penitentiary.
The coronavirus infection rate in Pennsylvania prisons is nearly two and a half times the rate of infection among the state’s overall population, according to an analysis by The Marshall Project, a news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system, with The Associated Press. By Dec. 15, at least 276,235 inmates in state and federal prisons across the country had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the site. Pennsylvania has reported more than 6,000 cases, or 1,356 per 10,000 inmates. There have been at least 48 inmate deaths across the state and more than 1,700 across the country, The Marshall Project’s analysis shows.
Battered by a wave of coronavirus infections and deaths, local jails and state prison systems around the United States have resorted to a drastic strategy to keep the virus at bay: Shutting down completely and transferring their inmates elsewhere.
From California to Missouri to Pennsylvania, state and local officials say that so many guards have fallen ill with the virus and are unable to work that abruptly closing some correctional facilities is the only way to maintain community security and prisoner safety.
Experts say the fallout is easy to predict: The jails and prisons that stay open will probably become even more crowded, unsanitary and disease-ridden, and the transfers are likely to help the virus proliferate both inside and outside the walls.
Another inmate housed at a Connecticut Department of Corrections facility has died of COVID-19, the agency said, bringing the total number of virus fatalities behind bars in the state to 13 this year. Since the pandemic began, 2,853 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19, along with 296 employees.
Prison COVID-19 Information Project - First Published April 11, 2020
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