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May 18, 2020

"Special Report: 'Death Sentence' — the hidden coronavirus toll in U.S. jails and prisons"

The title of this report is the headline of this lengthy new Reuters article that I recommend in full.  Here are just a few excerpts:

COVID-19 has spread rapidly behind bars in Detroit and across the nation, according to an analysis of data gathered by Reuters from 20 county jail systems, 10 state prison systems and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which runs federal penitentiaries.

But scant testing and inconsistent reporting from state and local authorities have frustrated efforts to track or contain its spread, particularly in local jails.  And figures compiled by the U.S. government appear to undercount the number of infections dramatically in correctional settings, Reuters found.

In a May 6 report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed 54 state and territorial health departments for data on confirmed COVID-19 infections in all correctional facilities — local jails, state prisons and federal prisons and detention centers.  Thirty-seven of those agencies provided data between April 22-28, reporting just under 5,000 inmate cases.

Reuters documented well over three times the CDC’s tally of COVID-19 infections — about 17,300 — in its far more modest survey of local, state and federal corrections facilities conducted about two weeks later.  The Reuters survey encompassed jails and prisons holding only 13% of the more than 2 million people behind bars nationwide.  Among state prisons doing mass testing of all inmates, Reuters found, some are seeing infection rates up to 65%.

The CDC tally “is dramatically low,” said Aaron Littman, a teaching fellow specializing in prison law and policy at the law school of the University of California, Los Angeles. “We don’t have a particularly good handle” on COVID-19 infections in many correctional and detention facilities, “and in some places we have no handle at all.”...

In many jails and prisons, the toll of COVID-19 on corrections officers and other staff approaches that of inmates — and here, too, the numbers reported to the CDC by state and local authorities appear to be a vast undercount.

The CDC report documented nearly 2,800 COVID-19 cases among staff across all U.S. correctional facilities.  But Reuters found more than 80% of that number — upwards of 2,300 infected jail and prison workers — in its far less comprehensive survey of just the federal prison system, a few dozen state prisons and the 20 counties with the biggest local jails.

May 18, 2020 at 12:09 PM | Permalink


The outbreak of CV-19 is growing rapidly at the Federal Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky. The number of cases among inmates jumped to 229 on Monday, from 198 on Friday (with 3 inmates dead); 6 staff members are also infected. The cases associated with FMC - Lexington account for more than 40% of all Coronavirus cases in Fayette County, Kentucky (553 cases total). By contrast, the local jail has reduced its head count to about 750 from 1,400 before the Covidvirus epidemic began, and has reported 0 cases of CV-19 among its inmates. One of the 60-something year old inmates who died last week had arrived at the prison on March 30, 2020, to serve a 7 month sentence for violating his Supervised Release, but he died within 6 weeks! More prison inmates have now died from CV-19 in 2020 (341+) than have been lawfully executed since January 1, 2010 (329 inmates executed); only one of the inmates who has died of CV-19 had a death sentence. I can only imagine the litigation against the Bureau of Prisons and various state and Federal jails and prisons their staffs that is about to be unleashed. See, "Farmer v. Brennan", 511 U.S. 825 (1994). Thousnads need to be released NOW to home incarceration with electronic monitoring, or this is going to be a blood bath.

Posted by: James Gormley | May 18, 2020 5:23:55 PM

We should all pray for inmate Chad Marks, age 42, who is incarcerated at FMC - Lexington. Chad recently succeeded with his 3582 Motion for a Reduction in Sentence in the W.D.N.Y., and his Judge cut his sentence to 20 years from 40 years. Chad has a section 924(c) gun stacking and drug case, which generated such a long sentence for such a young man. Chad has about 17 years in now, and is due to be released on June 4, 2020, if he can stay alive and healthy at FMC - Lexington, where CV-19 is now raging among the inmates and staff.

Posted by: James Gormley | May 18, 2020 8:57:37 PM

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