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September 1, 2021

"States of emergency: The failure of prison system responses to COVID-19"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Prison Policy Initiative authored by Tiana Herring and Maanas Sharma giving state-by-state grades to pandemic responses in incarceration nation. As the title suggestion, a whole lot of states received failing grades. Here is how the report gets started:

From the beginning of the pandemic, it was clear that densely packed prisons and jails — the result of decades of mass incarceration in the U.S. — presented dangerous conditions for the transmission of COVID-19. More than a year later, the virus has claimed more than 2,700 lives behind bars and infected 1 out of every 3 people in prison.

A year after we first graded state responses to COVID-19 in prisons, most state departments of corrections and the federal Bureau of Prisons are still failing on even the simplest measures of mitigation.

In this report, we evaluated departments of corrections on their responses to the pandemic from the beginning of the pandemic to July 2021.  We looked at a range of efforts to:

  • Limit the number of people in prisons: States received points for reducing prison populations as well as for instituting policies that reduced admissions and facilitated earlier releases.
  • Reduce infection and death rates behind bars: We penalized prison systems where infection and mortality rates exceeded the statewide COVID-19 infection and mortality rates, because some key decisions were based on correctional agencies’ faulty logic that prisons were controlled environments and therefore better positioned to stop the spread of infection than communities outside prison walls.
  • Vaccinate the incarcerated population: States were rated higher for including incarcerated people in their vaccine rollout plans, as well as for higher vaccination rates among their prison populations.
  • Address basic health (and mental health) needs through easy policy changes: We credited states for waiving or substantially reducing charges for video and phone calls, or providing masks and hygiene products to incarcerated people.  States also received points for suspending medical co-pays (which can discourage people from seeking treatment), requiring staff to wear masks, and implementing regular staff COVID-19 testing.

While some states performed well on one or two of these criteria, no state’s response to COVID-19 in prison has been sufficient.  The highest letter grade awarded was a “C”, and most states completely failed to protect incarcerated people.

September 1, 2021 at 10:40 AM | Permalink


Here in Kentucky, CV-19 took a horrible toll on state prison inmates, despite the fact that near the beginning, the Governor granted commutations toll about 1,700 of the oldest, most medically vulnerable, and sent them home. By the time the Kentucky Dept. of Corrections began innoculating inmates (following Federal Court rulings against the New York Dept. of Corrections for not offering the CV-19 vaccine to inmates at the same time it was being offered to the Free World population), more than half of the inmates in Kentucky's prisons had already been infected with CV-19! Even now, in September 2021, only about half of the guards and staff in Kentucky's prisons have received the CV-19 vaccine (but most of the inmates are now vaccinated).

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Sep 1, 2021 12:31:26 PM

As of August 26, 2021, 7,945 Kentucky inmates and 1,182 prison staff have contracted CV-19. 48 inmates and 6 staff have died from CV-19 between March 2020 and September 1, 2021. There are now only a few dozen active CV-19 cases among Kentucky's inmates and prison staff.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Sep 1, 2021 10:21:37 PM

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