Coronavirus

The U.S. Prison System Has Reached 1,000 COVID-19 Deaths

The infection and death rates have surpassed those of the general population.

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America crossed a grim threshold this week. The Marshall Project and the Associated Press calculate that there have now been 1,000 COVID-19 deaths across the state and federal prison systems. Of the people who died, 928 were inmates and 72 were prison staff.

There have been at least 108,000 reported COVID-19 infections among inmates, and the rates can vary wildly from state to state: Less than 10 percent of California's prison population has reported infections, while 30 percent of Arkansas' population has. You probably shouldn't use those numbers alone to determine how effectively prisons have responded to the outbreak: There are other variables, like how long it took for prisons to start widespread testing and how they've managed the infections. There has been a big spike in newly reported infections in prisons in July and August, but reported deaths are stable and about half what they were in April and May.

Research published in early July found that COVID-19 infection rates among prisoners were 5.5 times that of the general population. The death rate (39 per 10,000) among inmates was also higher than the death rate (29 per 10,000) among the general population. Again, this can vary wildly from state to state. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, report lower infection and death rates among its inmates than in the general population.

In California, the consequences of poor prison COVID policies are still playing out in San Quentin State Prison. California's oldest prison had been doing very well at keeping the coronavirus at bay, reporting no infections at all until May. But that month, several prisoners were transferred to San Quentin from the Correctional Institute for Men in Chino. The Chino prison had seen a massive outbreak and several deaths, and this was supposed to relieve overcrowding. But the transferred prisoners were not properly tested and quarantined, and so San Quentin had an outbreak too.

When Reason first noted this new infection cluster at the end of June, there had not yet been any COVID-19 deaths at San Quentin. Now, less than 90 days later, there have been 26 deaths, and San Quention has bypassed Chino to have most deaths among inmates in the state. This month a San Quentin prison guard also died of COVID-19.

When we critique politicians who try to shower themselves with undeserved glory for their COVID-19 responses, like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, we tend to focus on their poor grasp of risks at both ends of the spectrum—in Cuomo's case, pushing the infected elderly into nursing homes while shutting down parks and other outdoor spaces. The problems in the prisons deserve more attention, but it often takes a back seat because of people's attitudes toward prisoners.

But prisoners are in a position where they depend almost completely on government competence in a pandemic for their survival. And this should matter to you even if you don't particularly care about criminal justice reform (though it's certainly worth thinking about the facts that almost all of our biggest infection clusters are in prisons and that America has the world's highest incarceration rate). The people who are most dependent on government competence are getting infected at a higher rate and dying at a higher rate than those who are not. What does that tell you?

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41 responses to “The U.S. Prison System Has Reached 1,000 COVID-19 Deaths

  1. On the bright side the recidivism rate for those prisoners will be 0%

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  2. Maybe they should isolate everyone, and not let them go to the park or on vacation, and make them wear masks.

  3. Dude in case you didn’t notice Shackford a good 40% of the economy was effectively in concentration camp unable to do their jobs for several months during this by gov fiat would like a constant unrelenting drumbeat about that. It’s not that I don’t care about prisoners it’s just that we are under the greatest amount of fucking economic tyranny of my lifetime.

    1. The fact the entire staff wasn’t out in front actively screaming at the top of their lungs day after day about this injustice speaks volumes.

    2. a good 40% of the economy was effectively in concentration camp

      YOU CAN’T SCIENTIFICALLY PROVE THAT!!!!

      /Misek baiting

      1. Misek baiting, or white knight baiting?

  4. 108,000 reported cases, 928 dead?

    So a less than 1% mortality rate among a confined population. What was the mortality rate in the nursing home massacres of NY and NJ?

    1. Can we also look at the statistics for every other infection among the prison population? AIDS, influenza, etc. Gonna bet these are statistically higher as well. And let’s not forget the fact that prisoners are far less likely to own a car, hang out at the mall, and go bowling. And the incarceration rate is off the hook! OMG – the inhumanity of it all!

      It’s fucking prison. Bad shit happens in prison. Don’t like it? Don’t be stupid.

      When someone is driving home a point with a single stat and no context, he’s lying his ass off to you.

  5. The electorate obviously gives no shits about prisoners. Hence the nominees.

  6. This tragic statistic provides more evidence we should implement the Koch / Reason libertarian policy — #EmptyThePrisons.

    1. 1,000 deaths in U.S. prisons from coronavirus.

      This is exactly what we should expect based on the following:

      0.7% of the U.S. Population is incarcerated.

      170,000 total U.S. deaths x 0.7% is roughly 1,000 deaths.

      1. Don’t go using math here. Covid is soooo scary and a margin of error level of deaths compared to the population at large is a tragedy or something…

        I’m actually curious how many of those prison covid deaths are actually deaths under more suspicious circumstances being swept under the rug. We know the stats are being inflated in many places. I would think prisons have situations where they’d embrace the opportunity to avoid investigation by blaming a death on a popular cause

        1. Well, I haven’t seen any investigative reporting on increased payments to prison infirmaries if they claim the Communist Chinese Virus as the cause of death like the hospitals, so we can only speculate.

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  7. People die in pandemics. Including prisoners. Sad. But it’s actually not that difficult to stay out of prisons in the first place. Just takes a little bit of of effort, like, you know, not committing crimes and all.

    Are there people in prison who shouldn’t be there? Sure. But most of the people behind bars deserve to be there for their crimes.

  8. Were all of these prisoners on death row?

    1. No; they were mostly peaceful.

  9. Letting people out of prison into this crime and violence filled society in the middle of this deadly pandemic is like a death sentence.

  10. 1,000 deaths in U.S. prisons from coronavirus.

    This is exactly what we should expect based on the following:

    0.7% of the U.S. Population is incarcerated.

    170,000 total U.S. deaths x 0.7% is roughly 1,000 deaths.

    1. So…it appears that the prison population is faring a bit better than the general U.S. population in terms of % of deaths per 100,000.

      Can we assume that free and available healthcare and widespread testing for inmates accounts for their lower % death rates relative to the general U.S. population?

      1. No, it’s because most of them aren’t obese and old.

  11. Nobody fucking cares.

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  13. So how many of those people are in prison due to Biden’s crime bill?

    1. None.
      Trump personally locked up each and every one.
      There is widespread scientific consensus on this.

      1. Science!!

  14. It is true that most people I have talked to do not care about prisoners in prison. It is also true that too many of those prisoners rape, rob and murder when released. Let them serve their sentences.

  15. So basically fewer deaths than one nursing home in NY?

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  18. Comparing prisoners to the rest of the population is nonsensical. You’re comparing drug users and worse to average people, so don’t be surprised if they get infected and die at higher rates.

    1. They are actually dying from coronavirus at lower rates than the non-prisoner U.S. population.

  19. My question to Scott would be: what fraction of the alleged communivirus deaths were victimless miscreants, locked up for choice of plant leaf derivatives, fungi, tax resistance or insufficient smartness in licking the blacking off of officers’ boots?

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