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Inmates are not throw-aways…

Legislation would provide public health experts, policymakers, and the public with critical information about COVID-19 in correctional facilities

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today they are joining colleagues to reintroduce the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, legislation that would require the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the United States Marshals Service (USMS) and state governments to collect and publicly report detailed statistics about COVID-19 in federal, state, and local correctional facilities. 

“Nearly a year after lockdowns started to be implemented across America to try and keep folks safe from the coronavirus, we’re still struggling to contain the spread. No place is this more true than in our nation’s prison system where incarcerated people are at high risk of infection,” Wyden said. “Congress must push to meet this crisis with the strictest commitment to the health and safety of everyone, whether incarcerated or not. In order to do so, public health experts and policymakers must have access to the most comprehensive data to get an accurate picture of what’s happening to incarcerated people and correctional staff in federal prisons across the nation.”

“No jail or prison term should be a death sentence. It’s horrifying that when our correctional facilities become hotbeds of the coronavirus, any sentence can quickly turn into a deadly punishment,” Merkley said. “Collecting and publicly reporting data about the spread of the coronavirus in these facilities is an important step in our fight to ensure that we protect the lives and health of those in our custody.”

Although prisons and jails have become hotspots for the rapid spread of COVID-19, there is a troubling lack of comprehensive and publicly-available data from the BOP, the USMS, and state and local governments about the spread and management of COVID-19 in correctional facilities.

At the federal level, the BOP posts daily COVID-19 updates on its website but excludes important information, such as hospitalization numbers, and does not disaggregate data based on demographic categories. The USMS provides no data on its website on COVID-19 cases for individuals in its custody. At the state and local level, many state-run jails are not publicly reporting any information about COVID-19 cases, aside from a small number of large facilities.

This lack of standardized, detailed and public data is making it harder to manage the pandemic and is contributing to the rampant spread of the virus both inside correctional facilities across the country and in the communities in which they are situated. This places incarcerated individuals, correctional staff, and the public at risk. 

The COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act would provide public health experts, policymakers, and the public with critical information about COVID-19 in correctional facilities by requiring BOP, USMS, and state and local correctional facilities to submit disaggregated data to the CDC on a weekly basis, and regularly publish on their websites:

  • The numbers of incarcerated individuals and correctional staff who have been tested for COVID-19, and the type of tests performed,
  • The results of COVID-19 tests, including the numbers of confirmed negative tests, confirmed active cases, pending tests, and the average time to obtain test results,
  • The outcomes of COVID-19 cases, including the numbers of people who were hospitalized, recovered, placed in or released from quarantine or medical isolation, or died from COVID-19,
  • The term of imprisonment and time served for incarcerated individuals who have been infected with COVID-19;
  • The numbers of incarcerated individuals and correctional staff who have been given a first dose of a vaccine, have declined a vaccination, and are fully vaccinated;

States that fail to submit the required data to the CDC to a penalty in the form of a 10 percent reduction in future Byrne JAG grant funding.

Along with Wyden and Merkley, the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act to be reintroduced by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was co-sponsored by Senators Patty Murray, D-Wash., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Bob Casey, D-Penn., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.

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