WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will join the reintroduction of the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, bicameral 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 data about COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccinations in federal, state, and local correctional facilities. The legislation was led by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (D-TX).
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 even less 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. Even amongst the facilities that are reporting some information, however, the data are not standardized, and no central authority is ensuring that the data are easily accessible to and digestible by policymakers, public health experts, criminal justice professionals, and the public. This lack of detailed and public data is making it harder to manage the pandemic and address outbreaks in real time, and contributes 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.
Senators Baldwin, Warren and Booker along with Representatives Pressley, Nannette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), and Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) sent a letter urging Senate and House leadership to include provisions that would fund routine diagnostic testing, contact tracing, vaccine distribution, and data collection in federal, state, and local correctional facilities in the upcoming COVID-19 relief package. The lawmakers specifically ask Senate and House leadership to include portions of the Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act and the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act in the upcoming COVID-19 relief package.
“Correctional facilities have been hit especially hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there has been a failure to document the spread of the virus in these facilities,” said Senator Baldwin. “The first step towards protecting incarcerated individuals’ health is to require publicly available, accurate COVID-19 data collection from prisons and jails. This is an incredibly urgent matter, and we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to help keep everyone safe during this public health crisis.”
“As a result of their confinement, incarcerated people are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, and reports show that COVID-19 has spread like wildfire in correctional facilities across the country. This bill takes a necessary step towards containing the pandemic and supporting the health and safety of incarcerated individuals, correctional staff, and the general public by strengthening data collection, reporting, and transparency,” Senator Warren said.
“As we’ve feared since the onset of this pandemic, our nation’s prisons, jails, and detention facilities have proven to be among the worst hotspots for COVID-19,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “The most effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19 in these facilities is to prioritize decarceration. We must use every tool at our disposal to save lives and protect the health of our most vulnerable behind the wall. By mandating the collection and reporting of standardized, disaggregated data on COVID-19 cases, testing, and vaccinations in prisons, jails, and detention facilities nationwide will make plain the extent of this crisis and incite action to save lives. This is a matter of life and death, and we must act with the necessary urgency to stop the spread of this virus, protect the public health, and save lives.”
“Contracting COVID-19 in prison can be tantamount to a death sentence,” said Senator Booker. “People in prison and jail tend to have much higher rates of underlying health issues than the general public, and the conditions of confinement make social distancing virtually impossible, and as a result people in prison and jail are disproportionately contracting and dying of COVID-19. To track and stop the spread of this virus and save lives, we need accurate, up to date, detailed data that reflects the reality of the crisis we are facing.”
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. The bill does this by:
The COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act is also cosponsored by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), as well as Representatives David Trone (D-MD) and Val Demings (D-FL).
The legislation has been endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); American Public Health Association; AMEND at UCSF; Community Oriented Correctional Health Services; CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants); Dream Corps JUSTICE; Drug Policy Alliance; Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM); Federal Public and Community Defenders; First Focus Campaign for Children; Government Information Watch; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Lambda Legal; Law Enforcement Action Partnership; Legal Action Center; National Association of Counsel for Children; National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; National Association of Social Workers; National Center for Youth Law; National HIRE Network; National Juvenile Justice Network; Open The Government, Pennsylvania Prison Society; R Street Institute; REFORM Alliance; StoptheDrugWar.org; The Justice Collaborative; The Sentencing Project; Union for Reform Judaism; Vera Institute of Justice; and Dr. Brie Williams, Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco.
“I encourage all lawmakers to take a moment to truly appreciate how essential this legislation is,” said Dr. Brie Williams, Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco and Director of AMEND. “Without accurate, timely and comprehensive data about the impact of COVID-19 in prisons, we are at an extraordinary disadvantage in the fight to keep people who live or work in prisons and their surrounding communities safe from the pandemic. Perhaps even worse, a failure to access and analyze these data in correctional settings today means disaster for addressing COVID variants and future infectious disease outbreaks tomorrow.”
“We thank Senators Warren, Murray and Booker and Representatives Pressley, Garcia, Clarke, and Kelly for introducing the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act. This important legislation will require prisons and jails to report critical public health information on COVID-19 related to its impact on both incarcerated populations and correctional facility employees. Collecting and reporting this data is essential to ensure appropriate measures are put into place to prevent the spread of the disease and to ensure adequate testing and treatment for both inmates and correction facility workers and their families. This information is also critical to helping us further understand the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on communities of color, which also are disproportionately represented in our nation's prisons and jails,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director, American Public Health Association.
“Prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities are a deadly petri dish for highly contagious viruses like COVID-19, which can be spread easily by way of brief, indirect contact with another person through a sneeze or a cough,” said Richard Saenz, Senior Attorney and Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist at Lambda Legal. “There is simply no opportunity to practice social distancing. LGBTQ people in correctional facilities are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to underlying conditions such as asthma, kidney-related problems, and other underlying conditions that are a result of a lifetime of discrimination, making them susceptible and more likely to experience complications. This important legislation will help ensure the impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ people and other vulnerable communities in correctional facilities is identified in order to inform future policy making.”
“Accurate and timely data about the impact of COVID-19 on incarcerated populations will help government officials better confront the exploding public health crisis behind bars. Enactment of the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act would expose the dangers facing those in prisons and jails from COVID-19 nationwide, track progress on vaccine distribution among incarcerated people, and hopefully motivate better management and oversight practices in carceral settings during this crisis,” said Kara Gotsch, Deputy Director at The Sentencing Project.