out of control: how the delta variant is surging in prisons

438,000 people in prison have contracted COVID. Data shows state & local correctional facilities are failing to reduce their populations enough to curb outbreaks, a new report from PPI

We go to the Prison Policy Initiative for this week’s study, “As the Delta variant ravages the country, correctional systems are dropping the ball (again)” by Emily Widra

  • Many states’ prison populations are the lowest they’ve been in decades, but this is not because more people are being released from prisons. The limited data available from 11 states shows that the average number of monthly prison releases have actually decreased since 2019

  • The COVID-19 death rate in U.S. prisons is over 2x as high as in the general population, underscoring the urgency of reducing prison populations to protect people behind bars. 

Prison Policy Institute estimates that nearly one-third of county jails have higher populations now than before the pandemic.

“Many states’ prison populations are the lowest they’ve been in decades, but this is not because more people are being released from prisons.”

  • Since the start of the pandemic, California has reduced the state prison population by roughly 18% 

  • Despite this fact, California prisons are holding more people than they were designed for, at 112% of their design capacity (as of Oct. 6, 2021)

  • A national sample of 415 county jails of varying sizes shows 88% decreased their populations from March to July of 2020

    • resulting in an average change of a 24% population decrease

  • Between July 2020 and January 2021, the populations of 69% of the jails in the sample increased

    • As of October 2021, 29% of the jails in our sample have higher populations now than they did in March 2020

    • Overall, the average population change across these 415 jails since March 2020 has diminished to only a 7% decrease

“The early reforms instituted to mitigate COVID-19 have largely been abandoned.”

  • In NYC, the number of people detained pretrial has increased from 4,284 on January 1, 2020 to 5,152 people on October 1, 2021 

“The COVID-19 death rate in prisons stands at a staggering 200 deaths per 100,000 incarcerated people, much higher than the death rate among the general U.S. population of 81 deaths per 100,000 residents.”

Read the whole study here


COVID-19 resources: State policy changesNewsBureau of Prisons updatesState court changesPrison holistic self care and protectionJailhouse Lawyers Handbook.

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