The UCLA COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project confirmed 858 prisoner deaths from the disease around the U.S. as of Sunday. The total exceeds the number of executions in the nation between 2001 and 2020, says Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman in his Sentencing and Public Policy blog. The Death Penalty Information Center says there have been 839 executions since the year 2000.
Berman notes that those executed have been convicted of the most aggravated forms of murder, while most prisoners dying of COVID-19 were not responsible for a death, although several inmates on California’s death row are part of the COVID prisoner death count. Nearly half of the earlier reported deaths of federal prisoners involved people serving time for drug crimes. Another such offender died last week according to the federal Bureau of Prisons. Luis Velez, 58, died on August 18 at 58. He had been in federal prison for five years (of a 13-year sentence) for possession with intent to distribute meth. The UCLA project reports 72 deaths of prison staff members from COVID-19.