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May 11, 2020

The new death penalty: COVID has now killed more US prisoners in weeks than the US death penalty has in over a decade

As reported in prior posts here and here, all scheduled executions in the United States have been postponed in the last two months due in large part to the global pandemic.  But a pause in the carrying out of formal death sentences in the United States has been replaced by a new kind of death penalty as COVID has turned all sorts of other sentences in to functional death sentences.

The UCLA Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project has been doing a terrific job keeping an updated count, via this spreadsheet, of confirmed COVID deaths of persons serving time in state and federal facilities.  As of midday Monday, May 11, the UCLA accounting had tabulated 341 "Confirmed Deaths (Residents)."  This considerable number is sad and disconcerting on its own terms, but it is even more remarkable given that it amounts to more prisoner deaths than has been produced by carrying out formal death sentences in the United States for the entire period from 2010 to 2020. According to DPIC data, there were a total of 329 executions from the start of 2010 through today.

The Marshall Project has also been doing a great job reporting on COVID cases and deaths in penal facilities nationwide: on April 24 it reported 131 deaths of prisoners, and on May 8 its reported prisoner death count was up to 304.  If that rate of growth were to continue for months to come, more persons serving time in state and federal facilities may be killed by COVID than have been executed in the United States in the whole modern era of the US death penalty.

May 11, 2020 at 11:56 AM | Permalink


No I am not either I am a parent with a daughter in prison ,the judge and D.A. add to her case ,and I enjoy learning ,reading about what's going on ,I could go and on but want ,thank you for your blog Patricia

Posted by: Patricia Ann Murdock | May 12, 2020 10:40:11 AM

Correct me if (again) wrong, but I wish I could say, after many years seeing it, that I'm shocked -- like for Casablanca's gambling -- that even the great Marshall Project and the herein UCLA project, for my state Mass. includes only "state prison" #'s, which I admit are far-far easier to obtain, but neither obtains nor esp'y highlights that they haven't gotten COUNTY JAILS/HOUSES-OF-CORRECTIONS #'s, which due to MA's very broad lower (district) court jurisdiction over many felonies (w/ sentences up to 2.5 yrs), have always had near 50% of our inmates. For most, maybe all, other states I'll guess the figures "only" omit local "jails" w/ mostly/only pretrial detainees. For better AND worse, and we all hope temporary, right now there’s at least some data for inmate (&staff) infections -- not deaths! -- in MA’s county Jails/HoC’s, the SJC-12926-Special-Masters-Weekly-Reports, the last one showing 5937 inmates, ~ 40% more than the already reported (prison-only) USA’s 5th most, 351 per 100k inmates

Marty Rosenthal, defense atty

Posted by: Martin Rosenthal | May 12, 2020 12:44:04 PM

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