COVID Booster Shots Unavailable for Incarcerees in 40 States: Report  

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Over 40 states have not  provided COVID booster shots to incarcerees,  says the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI).

As the country confronts a new variant in the COVID pandemic, PPI said a nationwide survey uncovered flaws in reporting and data collection in state facilities that rival mistakes seen when the infection first took hold in prisons last year.

Early in the pandemic, prison systems across the country were developing and updating “COVID data dashboards.” They varied from state to state but generally tracked the same thing: active case numbers, testing efforts, and COVID 19-related deaths.

Then, as the pandemic progressed, many federal and state tracking systems added vaccination number, but these dashboards were “often riddled with inadequacies and confusion,” according to PPI.

To make matters worse, now that case rates are spiking again with the onset of the Omicron variant, data on the vaccinations and booster doses are scarce and incomplete across our country’s prison systems.

“Our survey of websites operated by state departments of corrections and the Bureau of Prisons found that only four states — Delaware, Missouri, Michigan, and Minnesota — are publishing data on booster dose administration for incarcerated people, while only one prison system — Maryland — is making data available about correctional staff booster doses,” the PPI said.

While other states have referred to the possibility of booster shots for inmates on their websides, the most telling sign of all is silence, said PPI.

In over 40 states, there’s “no evidence that prisons are providing boosters at all,” researchers said.

The lack of data about prisons and COVID has been cited in other studies as well.

In July 2021, the UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project found “many state correctional agencies were failing to regularly update their the COVID-19 data.”

A month later, in August 2021, UCLA found that Florida and Georgia had completely removed their COVID-19 data dashboards, while Louisiana drastically reduced its published data to only include active case counts, according to the report.

Little has changed, the PPI said.

The PPI found that as of Dec. 14, eight state correctional agencies have COVID-19 data dashboards that have not been updated in the last week.

According to the PPI report, the Department of Corrections COVID-19 dashboard in Montana has not been updated for 88 days. It’s been 25 days in Mississippi, 14 days in Tennessee, 12 days in North Carolina, 11 days in Alabama and New York, nine days in Alaska, and eight days in Oregon.

To make matters worse, even when some states do update their dashboards, most fail to report crucial information, including about the five major metrics that states should be tracking and publishing:

      • cumulative case counts;
      • active or current cases;
      • cumulative deaths;
      • vaccination progress; and,
      • testing counts.

Researchers say the lack of data raises questions about the ability of prisons to defend against  Omicron, which is believed to spread more quickly than other variants of COVID.

“By retiring their COVID-19 data dashboards, prison systems are leaving the public in the dark about a critical public health measure,” the PPI report concludes.

“Rather than waiting until the pandemic is over to hold these prison systems accountable for their healthcare policy failures, we should demand transparency — and booster shots for incarcerated people — now.”

The full Prison Policy Initiative report can be accessed here.

This summary was prepared by Associate Editor Andrea Cipriano.

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