COVID-19 Death Rate in Prison Twice That of General Population: Study

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Photo by Criminal Defense Network via Flickr.

The COVID-19 mortality rate in state and federal prisons is twice that of the death rate for the general population, according to the results of a study released Wednesday from the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice.

A separate report found that local jail populations decreased by an average of 31 percent in March before rising again in May.

The research found “wide disparities” among the states in the rates of COVID-19 related deaths in prisons and jails.

Five states–Arkansas, New Mexico, Kentucky, Ohio, and Delaware–reported prison mortality rates more than eight times higher than rates for their general state populations.

However, some states, including New York and Pennsylvania, reported death rates that were below those for the non-incarcerated, according to the study.

The Commission’s separate research on the impact of COVID-19 and jails found that jail populations decreased by an average of 31 percent since mid-March.

“Generally, rebooking rates for jailed individuals released after March 16 remained below pre-pandemic rebooking rates,” according to the new research. “This was true for felonies as well as misdemeanors.”

America’s county jails detain approximately 11 million people every year. The commission authors said data on “infection and mortality rates in jails has been relatively limited.”

A report released last week by New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management said, “Correctional and detention facilities have proven to be hotspots for COVID-19, with the ten largest outbreak clusters in the United States occurring in prisons or jails.”

The national commission report said that COVID-19 spurred population declines in jails “were accompanied by changes in the makeup of jail populations.”

As the jail populations dropped, “there were increases in the proportion of people in jail who were booked on felony charges, who were male, who were 25 or younger, and who were Black.”

At the same time, the “shares of people who were booked on only misdemeanor charges who were female and who were white all decreased.”

The report also said that between May 2 and July 20, jail populations rose again, by 12 percent on average, “despite steep increases in new COVID-19 cases in local communities.”

The full report on prisons can be read here.

The commission’s research on jails can be read here.


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