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Reducing Jail and Prison Populations During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Prisons, jails, and other correctional authorities must make every effort to release unnecessarily incarcerated people and improve healthcare and conditions of confinement.

Last Updated: January 7, 2022
Published: March 27, 2020

Pris­ons and jails frequently suffer from over­crowding. Even in the best of times they are, by defin­i­tion, facil­it­ies where people are placed in close contact with each other on a near-constant basis. Factor in the unique health chal­lenges faced by incar­cer­ated people and the limited avail­ab­il­ity of qual­ity health­care, and it’s no surprise that correc­tional facil­it­ies are uniquely vulner­able to diseases such as Covid-19.

Correc­tional admin­is­trat­ors have limited control over how long people spend incar­cer­ated, but they can use what author­ity they possess to release people outright or direct people to less restrict­ive forms of confine­ment. They can also ease condi­tions of confine­ment and increase access to health products. Some correc­tional author­it­ies have already begun this work.

Between March and June, more than 100,000 people were released from state and federal pris­ons. Accord­ing to analyses by The Marshall Project and The Asso­ci­ated Press, this consti­tutes an 8% decrease in the national prison popu­la­tion since the pandemic star­ted.

As the coronavirus pandemic contin­ues to ravage the coun­try, and partic­u­larly its incar­cer­ated popu­la­tions, govern­ment actors have turned their atten­tion to vaccine distri­bu­tion as the solu­tion to this health crisis. Though some states have expli­citly included incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als in their vaccin­a­tion plans, many have not yet provided inform­a­tion as to how and when those behind bars will be gran­ted access to this protec­tion.

Redu­cing Jail and Prison Popu­la­tions

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Elderly and sick people and those incar­cer­ated for parole viol­a­tions should be released or recom­men­ded for release under compas­sion­ate release provi­sions or another author­ity. Barring that, prison offi­cials should use their discre­tion to trans­fer people to community correc­tions options.

Spring 2020

  • On April 6, Attor­ney General Barr sent a memo to federal prosec­utors urging them to consider Covid-19 related risk when making bail decisions. The memo cited the risk inher­ent in increas­ing jail popu­la­tions during the pandemic, as well as concerns about risks to indi­vidu­als. Notably, the memo still instructs prosec­utors to detain people who pose a public safety threat, despite concerns about the virus. 
  • On March 31, the Bureau of Pris­ons announced that, effect­ive April 1, every­one currently incar­cer­ated in the federal prison system would be confined to their cell for 14 days.
  • On April 5, the Bureau of Pris­ons issued an update to their home confine­ment policy in response to Covid-19. Notably, indi­vidu­als can be released to home confine­ment without submit­ting a request. At the same time, anyone who thinks they’re eligible for home confine­ment may apply for release and provide a release plan to their case manager. 
  • On April 20, some people incar­cer­ated in BOP custody were told that offi­cials were no longer consid­er­ing early releases for inmates who have served less than half their sentence, a reversal of an April 9 announce­ment from BOP staffers. Accord­ing to advoc­ates and family members, many indi­vidu­als had already been put into pre-release quar­ant­ine before the reversal was announced. 
  • As of April 23, the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion once again changed the criteria used to consider incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als for early release. The new stand­ard broadened the condi­tions for release to include incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als who have served at least 25 percent of their sentences and who have less than 18 months remain­ing on their term. 
  • On May 12, a federal judge ordered a federal prison in Connecti­cut to speed up its process for releas­ing incar­cer­ated people who are at seri­ous risk for COVID-19. The court found that prison offi­cials’ fail­ure to quickly release at-risk indi­vidu­als, thereby putting them at risk of seri­ous harm, was in viol­a­tion of the 8th Amend­ment. 
  • On May 20, the BOP asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt a federal judge’s order to release or trans­fer incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als from FCI Elkton in Ohio. On May 26, the Supreme Court announced that they would not block U.S. District Judge James Gwin’s order to move at-risk incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als from FCI Elkton. 

Summer 2020

  • By June, local jails across the coun­try had largely followed three traject­or­ies. The most common pattern, occur­ring in 527 counties stud­ied by the Vera Insti­tute, was a sharp decline in jail popu­la­tions in March that remained low as the pandemic contin­ued. In 270 other counties, the jail popu­la­tion quickly declined at the begin­ning of the pandemic, but soon began increas­ing again—reach­ing pre-pandemic levels by the summer. In 454 addi­tional counties across the coun­try, jail popu­la­tions never decreased in response to the pandemic.
  • On July 14, US District Court Judge Consuelo Marshall ruled that federal prison author­it­ies must begin trans­fer­ring medic­ally vulner­able people from Lompoc, CA’s prison complex to home confine­ment, after a Covid outbreak at the prison killed four incar­cer­ated people and infec­ted more than 1,000 others. Judge Marshall found that the BOP had “likely been delib­er­ately indif­fer­ent to the known urgency to consider inmates for home confine­ment, partic­u­larly those most vulner­able to severe illness or death.”
  • On August 21, a group of public health offi­cials in Massachu­setts released a study call­ing for decar­cer­a­tion in the state’s carceral facil­it­ies by show­ing that the rate of Covid-19 among incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als is at least three times that of the general Massachu­setts popu­la­tion and five times the U.S. rate.
  • On August 28, a federal judge began consid­er­ing appoint­ing a “special liaison” in charge of redu­cing Covid-19 expos­ure risks in North Caro­lin­a’s prison system, in response to a lawsuit filed by the NAACP, Disab­il­ity Rights North Caro­lina, ACLU, and others.
  • On Septem­ber 4th, the Wash­ing­ton state prison system proposed a signi­fic­ant restruc­tur­ing that includes a “signi­fic­ant and perman­ent reduc­tion in prison popu­la­tion”. Changes include direct prison popu­la­tion reduc­tions, senten­cing reforms, and alter­a­tions to community super­vi­sion/support.

Fall 2020

  • Despite Attor­ney General Barr’s instruc­tions to util­ize compas­sion­ate release, home confine­ment, and other release levers to protect elderly and at-risk popu­la­tions from Covid-19 expos­ure behind bars, federal prosec­utors in Flor­ida argued against the release of Atil­ano Domin­guez (an 80-year-old man serving a life sentence for marijuana-related convic­tions) because COVID-19 is simply “one more way to perish in prison.”
  • Accord­ing to data obtained by the Marshall Project and published on Octo­ber 7, 10,940 federal pris­on­ers applied for compas­sion­ate release in the first three months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Wardens approved only 156 of those peti­tions, deny­ing or ignor­ing over 98 percent of peti­tions.
  • On Octo­ber 3, Senator Eliza­beth Warren intro­duced legis­la­tion to require weekly Covid-19 test­ing in federal pris­ons. Sen. Warren also joined with Senator Richard Durbin to send letters to Attor­ney General William Barr and Bureau of Pris­ons Director Michael Carva­jal, suggest­ing that the govern­ment has failed to respond to Covid-19 in its carceral facil­it­ies. The letters addi­tion­ally ques­tion the BOP’s reli­ance on solit­ary confine­ment to isol­ate those who are diagnosed with Covid-19, rather than grant­ing compas­sion­ate release.
  • The recent spree of federal execu­tions by the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indi­ana, has been linked to a coronavirus outbreak at the facil­ity. A BOP staff member involved in the first execu­tion on July 14 tested posit­ive for the virus, after report­ing extens­ive contact with incar­cer­ated people and other staff members at the prison. The BOP did not test every­one in the facil­ity, nor did the depart­ment require infec­ted staff members to quar­ant­ine for a full 14 days, allow­ing them to return to work after just 10 days without symp­toms and without being retested.
  • On Octo­ber 22, after review­ing evid­ence that an employee in a Vermont prison was infec­ted with Covid-19 after repeated, short inter­ac­tions with incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als who had contrac­ted the virus, the CDC updated its defin­i­tion of a close contact with a Covid-19 patient to include multiple, brief expos­ures.
  • The federal Bureau of Pris­ons resumed in-person visit­a­tion in Octo­ber, after seven months of banning social visit­a­tion. No phys­ical contact is allowed, and indi­vidual facil­it­ies may pause visit­a­tion at any point in response to outbreak concerns.

Winter 2020–2021

  • On Decem­ber 2, the Prison Policy Initi­at­ive released data illus­trat­ing the nation’s fail­ure to mitig­ate the risk of Covid-19 infec­tion behind bars. The report states that: “While state prison popu­la­tions have slowly declined from pre-pandemic levels, the pace of these modest reduc­tions has slowed since the spring, even as national infec­tion rates continue to rise.” Addi­tion­ally, the coun­try’s network of county jails have failed to imple­ment reduc­tions that were prom­ised months ago. These fail­ures have brought deadly consequences to incar­cer­ated people across the coun­try, and the inhu­mane risks will continue until the pandemic ends or the system acts to release people.
  • Accord­ing to the Coun­cil on Crim­inal Justice’s Decem­ber report on Covid-19 in U.S. pris­ons, “approx­im­ately 12 of every 100 indi­vidu­als in state and federal pris­ons had recovered from or were exper­i­en­cing a COVID-19 infec­tion as of Nov. 13, 2020.” This number far outpaces the corres­pond­ing rate of roughly three in 100 U.S. resid­ents.
  • By Decem­ber 21, at least 14 of the roughly 50 men held on federal death row at the federal penit­en­tiary in Terre Haute, Indi­ana had tested posit­ive for Covid-19 at the same time. These men include two of the three people sched­uled to be executed before Donald Trump leaves office, Corey John­son and Dustin John Higgs. Their lawyers have raised the highly conta­gious virus as reason for delay­ing their execu­tions, which could mean their lives are spared if the dates are delayed until after Joe Biden takes office.
  • The Coun­cil on Crim­inal Justice’s National Commis­sion on Covid-19 and Crim­inal Justice released a report in Decem­ber that iden­ti­fies weak­nesses in the nation­wide response to Covid-19 in carceral and community correc­tion settings and provides concrete recom­mend­a­tions for build­ing a fairer and more resi­li­ent crim­inal legal system during the recov­ery period of this pandemic.
  • In an exam­in­a­tion of mass incar­cer­a­tion’s impact on community spread of the coronavirus, the Prison Policy Initi­at­ive docu­mented that across the coun­try, mass incar­cer­a­tion added more than a half million coronavirus cases in just three months and grew Covid-19 case­loads much more quickly among counties in multicounty economic areas with more people incar­cer­ated.
  • On Janu­ary 5, Senator Eliza­beth Warren joined the cofounders of the COVID Prison Project in an op-ed call­ing for more trans­par­ency and data collec­tion on the status of the Covid-19 pandemic within the coun­try’s pris­ons and jails: “We know it’s bad, but because compre­hens­ive data isn’t being collec­ted, we don’t know exactly how bad it is.”
  • Under the new Biden admin­is­tra­tion’s Covid-19 strategy, jails, pris­ons, and deten­tion centers are prior­ity areas for vaccin­a­tion. In the National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Prepared­ness plan, the federal govern­ment acknow­ledges that “incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als and facil­ity staff are at high risk of infec­tion and in many cases severe illness and death,” and prom­ises to coordin­ate a vaccin­a­tion program through the BOP while also “work­ing with states and local­it­ies to encour­age the vaccin­a­tion of incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als along with facil­ity staff as supply is avail­able."
  • On Janu­ary 15, the BOP announced plans to force some people released to home confine­ment during the pandemic back into carceral facil­it­ies. Those people sent home during the pandemic did not receive any “date of return” paper­work, lead­ing most to believe that they were “home for good with their sentence ending when their ankle brace­let was removed.”
  • As the federal govern­ment raced to execute incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als before the Biden admin­is­tra­tion was sworn in, the BOP know­ingly with­held posit­ive coronavirus diagnoses from media witnesses and declined to conduct any contract tracing after expos­ures at the execu­tions. Multiple journ­al­ists were exposed while acting as media witnesses and many have since tested posit­ive. On Janu­ary 27, the BOP confirmed that they had known about posit­ive test results for days, but decided not to take any action.

Spring 2021

  • On March 16, the Asso­ci­ated Press and the Marshall Project repor­ted that staff in US pris­ons have been refus­ing the Covid-19 vaccine at alarm­ingly high rates. These sources attrib­ute refus­als to staff worry­ing about side effects of the vaccine, latch­ing onto conspir­acy theor­ies, and a lack of trust in prison admin­is­tra­tion. Advoc­ates fear that having unvac­cin­ated staff could lead to future coronavirus outbreaks among incar­cer­ated people who have yet to be vaccin­ated and are not able to avoid unmasked and unvac­cin­ated staff. 
  • As of March 17, vaccin­a­tion rates among incar­cer­ated people varied widely between states. Recom­mend­a­tions from the Centers for Disease Control have encour­aged states to prior­it­ize incar­cer­ated people in their vaccine distri­bu­tion plans, only about half of states included incar­cer­ated people in the early stages of their vaccine rollout plan.
  • On March 26, the U.S. Depart­ment of Justice direc­ted the Bureau of Pris­ons to expand the home confine­ment program, which moves people out of federal pris­ons to be surveilled in their homes. The decision comes as numbers of Covid-19 cases continue to rise in jails and pris­ons despite vaccine distri­bu­tion among incar­cer­ated people in some states.
  • On April 1, the National Commis­sion on COVID-19 and Crim­inal Justice repor­ted that in states with “limited” Covid-19 test­ing in jails and pris­ons, rates of infec­tion were almost eight times higher among incar­cer­ated people than the rest of the popu­la­tion.
  • As of April 5, four new stud­ies have been released show­ing how over­crowded facil­it­ies, trans­fer­ring of incar­cer­ated people between insti­tu­tions, limited test­ing and PPE, and high vaccine hesit­ancy within jails and pris­ons have all contrib­uted to the large spread of Covid-19 in pris­ons and jails.
  • As of April 15, the US Bureau of Pris­ons did not have imme­di­ate plans to send people back to prison who were released during the pandemic. BOP Director Michael Carva­jal argued in a tele­vised hear­ing that Congress needs to change exist­ing law to prevent those people from being sent back to incar­cer­a­tion in the future.
  • As of April 16, pris­ons across the coun­try began report­ing halts in their Covid-19 vaccin­a­tion efforts due to the pause in the John­son & John­son vaccine. The John­son & John­son vaccine is both easier to store because it does not require freez­ing and easier to distrib­ute because it is one dose. 
  • On the same day, Federal Bureau of Pris­ons director, Michael Carva­jal, announced that all people incar­cer­ated in federal pris­ons will have an oppor­tun­ity to receive a Covid-19 vaccine by mid-May. All federal prison staff are currently eligible to be vaccin­ated, and just over half of them have taken the vaccine.
  • In an analysis of state and federal court records and data and inter­views with prosec­utors, judges, defense attor­neys and court admin­is­trat­ors, the New York Times found that dozens of incar­cer­ated people died behind bars this year after being approved for release by a parole board or while being held in jail without a convic­tion.
  • On June 11, The Marshall Project repor­ted that 31,000 pris­on­ers sought compas­sion­ate release during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Federal Bureau of pris­ons approved just 36. 

Summer 2021

  • On June 30, the Marshall Project repor­ted that a half-million people got Covid-19 in prison, emphas­iz­ing the need to create consist­ent policies to prevent future health crises from ravaging facil­it­ies and sick­en­ing thou­sands.
  • On July 19, the Biden admin­is­tra­tion legal team decided that the 4,000 indi­vidu­als released from federal prison under the CARES act will be required by law to return to prison one month after the offi­cial state of emer­gency for the pandemic ends. 
  • After analyz­ing data from 1,605 counties, Dr. Eric Rein­hart (North­west­ern Univer­sity Fein­berg School of Medi­cine) and Daniel Chen (Toulouse School of Econom­ics and the World Bank) linked an 80% reduc­tion in the U.S. jail popu­la­tion to a two percent drop in the growth rate of daily Covid-19 cases. Regarded as a “conser­vat­ive estim­ate”, this differ­ence attests to millions of Covid-19 cases and tens of thou­sands of deaths that could have been preven­ted if the U.S. had done more to reduce its incar­cer­a­tion rate.

Fall 2021

  • On Octo­ber 4th, the Marshall Project and Solit­ary Watch released original research docu­ment­ing that solit­ary confine­ment use increased across the coun­try during the pandemic, from roughly 50,000 people to nearly 300,000 on any given day.
  • On Octo­ber 27, research­ers at the Univer­sity of Cali­for­nia-Los Angeles released data show­ing that several states such as Texas, Geor­gia, and Flor­ida have “cloaked” their Covid-19 figures, inten­tion­ally not publish­ing inform­a­tion on the number of cases, tests performed, deaths and vaccin­a­tions among incar­cer­ated people and staff. These states have also hiding demo­graphic inform­a­tion of the incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion that would illus­trate the age, ethni­city, and race of prison popu­la­tions who have been the most vulner­able to Covid-19.
  • On Novem­ber 16, Senator Dick Durbin, chair­man of the Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee, deman­ded that Attor­ney General Merrick Garland fire Michael Carva­jal, Director of the Federal Bureau of Pris­ons. The move came after an Asso­ci­ated Press invest­ig­a­tion revealed that more than 100 BOP employ­ees have been arres­ted, convicted, or sentenced for crimes since the start of 2019. The invest­ig­a­tion addi­tion­ally revealed that the agency does not invest­ig­ate miscon­duct and rarely suspends those who have been arres­ted for crimes.

Winter 2021

  • On Decem­ber 21, Attor­ney General Marrick Garland released a direct­ive revers­ing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s decision to require people released into home confine­ment during the pandemic under the CARES Act to return to prison at the conclu­sion of the health emer­gency.

State/Local Responses and Vaccin­a­tions

Alabama

  • In April, the Alabama DOC opened a dedic­ated coronavirus quar­ant­ine ward at Draper Correc­tional Facil­ity, which had been closed in 2018 due to unsan­it­ary and inhu­mane condi­tions, such as “rats, maggots, open sewage and toxic fumes”. People incar­cer­ated there during the pandemic have repor­ted no work­ing toilets, no social distan­cing, insuf­fi­cient Covid-19 test­ing, and limited access to hygiene and sanit­ary products.
  • On July 14, Alabama DOC announced expan­ded test­ing proto­cols in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19 in its correc­tional facil­it­ies. Previ­ously, only inmates show­ing symp­toms, those leav­ing for medical appoint­ments, or new admis­sions to a facil­ity were tested. 
  • On Septem­ber 21, the South­ern Poverty Law Center issued a report illus­trat­ing that Alabama has been mass-deny­ing the parole applic­a­tions of incar­cer­ated people who are partic­u­larly at-risk of contract­ing Covid-19.
  • On Janu­ary 21, Tusca­loosa County Sher­iff Ron Abernathy announced his juris­dic­tion’s plans to start vaccin­at­ing people held at the local jail as soon as more doses become avail­able, provid­ing hundreds of incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als with some protec­tion from Covid-19.
  • As of April 14, Covid-related deaths remained high in Alabama pris­ons. The state is the fifth highest for Covid-19 deaths in pris­ons, while vaccine supply contin­ues to be limited for incar­cer­ated popu­la­tions. The state’s Depart­ment of Public Health opened Covid-19 vaccine eligib­il­ity to incar­cer­ated popu­la­tions on Febru­ary 8.
  • On July 15, Alabama Live repor­ted a Covid-19 outbreak at St. Clair County Jail in Ashville. Currently, 37 of the 160 people incar­cer­ated there have tested posit­ive for Covid-19. 
  • On July 27, the ADOC began offer­ing $5 canteen “grab bags” to incar­cer­ated people who elect to get vaccin­ated. 
  • By August 18, nearly 200 people incar­cer­ated at Elmore Correc­tional Facil­ity tested posit­ive for Covid-19, after an outbreak promp­ted mass test­ing for every­one at the prison.
  • On Octo­ber 1, the Alabama legis­lature approved $400 million to be siphoned off from the state’s two-billion-dollar pandemic relief fund to be used for a billion-dollar prison construc­tion plan.
  • On Novem­ber 17th, the Alabama Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that after a rise in Covid-19 cases at the Staton Correc­tion Facil­ity in Elmore, they tested all asymp­to­matic men and received 75 more posit­ive test results. Since Septem­ber, the facil­ity has been oper­at­ing at over 250 percent capa­city.
  • In March 2020, the state of Alabama shut down in-person visit­a­tion for incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als, citing concerns of spread­ing Covid-19. On Decem­ber 4, 2021, the state began reopen­ing its doors to in-person family visits.
  • On Decem­ber 18, over 20 organ­iz­a­tions signed a letter implor­ing the U.S. House Finan­cial Services Commit­tee to invest­ig­ate Alabama’s plan to use $400 million in pandemic relief funds to build two pris­ons in the state.

Alaska

  • On April 15, Correc­tions Commis­sioner Nancy Dahl­strom announced that early release for incar­cer­ated people with elev­ated Covid-19 risk “is not on the table”.
  • As of July 1, all people enter­ing a jail in Alaska will be tested for Covid-19 and placed in 14-day quar­ant­ine within the facil­ity, total­ing about 600 people tested each week. Anyone leav­ing or enter­ing jails, such as those trans­fer­ring between facil­it­ies or exit­ing for medical appoint­ments, will also be tested.
  • On Novem­ber 3, the Alaska Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that at least 22 incar­cer­ated people, plus five staff members, at the Goose Creek Correc­tional Center have tested posit­ive for Covid-19. This outbreak follows one at the Fairb­anks Correc­tional Center, which repor­ted at least 88 posit­ive tests during the month of Octo­ber.
  • On Decem­ber 27, the Hiland Moun­tain Correc­tional Center repor­ted over 100 new active cases of Covid-19, an infec­tion rate of over 25% of the women housed at the facil­ity. The prison entered lock­down over the Christ­mas holi­day in an attempt to limit the spread of this devel­op­ing outbreak.
  • On March 16, the Alaska Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that the state will begin allow­ing incar­cer­ated people to meet with their attor­neys in-person start­ing March 17, after these meet­ings were halted indef­in­itely in March 2020.
  • On April 6, an Alaska judge ruled that incar­cer­ated people will be allowed to meet with their attor­neys in person, regard­less of if they are vaccin­ated. The ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed by Alaska defense attor­neys on behalf of their clients in Janu­ary.
  • On April 19, the Alaska Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that it will begin in-person visits between incar­cer­ated people who are fully vaccin­ated and the public. The state’s pris­ons have been closed to visit­ors since March of 2020.
  • On Tues­day, August 3, Hiland Moun­tain Correc­tional Center in Eagle River repor­ted 18 Covid-19 cases, prompt­ing a lock­down of the facil­ity.

Arizona

  • Advoc­ates in Arizona have been call­ing for an imme­di­ate stop to prison admis­sions, after offi­cials announced on August 4 that 517 people (nearly half of the incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion) at Tucson’s Whet­stone Unit have tested posit­ive for Covid. Only a small portion of people incar­cer­ated in Arizona state pris­ons have been tested for the coronavirus.
  • By Septem­ber, 2,577 incar­cer­ated people in Arizona had tested posit­ive for the coronavirus, a number that is likely much lower than the actual rate of infec­tion—in­car­cer­ated people have been report­ing for months that they are not able to easily access test­ing, common areas are not being safely main­tained, and that they are not being given neces­sit­ies such as soap, clean­ing supplies, and masks.
  • Accord­ing to a memo released on Novem­ber 17 by Pima County Admin­is­trator Chuck Huck­el­berry, the county’s dramatic rise in infec­tions is at least partially attrib­ut­able to an outbreak at its federal prison. The facil­ity repor­ted 500 infec­tions in the two weeks prior, but on-site medical services continue to be limited to “outpa­tient acute care” from a team of four nurse prac­ti­tion­ers or mid-level providers, 12 support­ing nurses/para­med­ics and the facil­ity’s medical director.
  • On Decem­ber 8, the Arizona DOC repor­ted that 655 people inside a single unit at its Yuma prison facil­ity has tested posit­ive for Covid-19. In the same week, over 600 women incar­cer­ated at the Perry­ville prison did not have running water, nor did two units of men incar­cer­ated at a prison in Goodyear. Advoc­ates for incar­cer­ated people in both pris­ons have filed lawsuits arguing that the unsan­it­ary condi­tions at Arizona facil­it­ies are further endan­ger­ing those locked inside, expos­ing them to more risk of contract­ing Covid-19.
  • In Decem­ber, the state announced that it will begin a second round of Covid-19 test­ing for all incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als in 2021, as well as launch­ing rapid test­ing for prison employ­ees. The revived test­ing protocol follows at least 6,411 cases and 26 Covid-related deaths within Arizon­a’s prison system in 2020.
  • On Febru­ary 14, correc­tions offi­cials in Arizona repor­ted that the state’s prison popu­la­tion had declined by 11% through­out the pandemic. These numbers come as a result of fewer sentences and proba­tion revoc­a­tions. There has also been a reluct­ance for people charged with crimes to take plea deals because of a fear of the spread of Covid-19 in pris­ons, but many counties around the state have paused or limited jury trials during the pandemic.
  • As of May 21, the Arizona Depart­ment of Correc­tions had distrib­uted more than 43,500 first and second-dose vaccines at its ten state facil­it­ies. Private pris­ons have admin­istered 9,792 vaccines. 

Arkan­sas

  • On April 19, Gov. Asa Hutchin­son of Arkan­sas announced that his office is asking the state’s parole board to compile a list of people to be considered for release due to Covid-19. The list is limited to those convicted of nonvi­ol­ent offenses and those who are due for release within the next 6 months. 
  • By June 2, over 1,200 people had been made eligible for parole consid­er­a­tion under the Covid-19 consid­er­a­tions. However, only 300 of them had been released.
  • On Decem­ber 12, offi­cials at four pris­ons in Arkan­sas began reopen­ing in-person family visit­a­tion. The visits in this pilot program are limited to two adults from an imme­di­ate family group, allowed to meet for up to one hour in rooms divided by plastic-glass barri­ers.
  • On Janu­ary 6, Arkan­sas began vaccin­at­ing prison offi­cials and staff, prior­it­iz­ing those who have not yet contrac­ted Covid-19 before open­ing the vaccin­a­tion to all facil­ity staff. The state has not begun to vaccin­ate incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als, and state health depart­ment offi­cials have announced no timeline for doing so.
  • As of June 12, the Arkan­sas Depart­ment of Correc­tions is expand­ing modi­fied in-person visit­a­tion to all Depart­ment of Correc­tion prison facil­it­ies.
  • Several incar­cer­ated people at an Arkan­sas jail have repor­ted that they were unknow­ingly given Iver­mectin, an anti­para­sitic drug, to treat Covid-19. There is no known empir­ical evid­ence that such a treat­ment is effect­ive or safe.

Cali­for­nia

  • On March 18, Gov. Newsom of Cali­for­nia signed an exec­ut­ive order that includes $50 million to lease hotel rooms or buy travel trail­ers for home­less people, includ­ing those recently released from jails.
  • On March 31, Cali­for­nia decided to release 3,500 incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als in an attempt to reduce over­crowding in state pris­ons during the Covid-19 pandemic. The accel­er­ated prison discharges apply to those who were set to be released within the next 60 days.
  • As of April 19, Los Angeles County has released close to 25 percent of its jail popu­la­tion.
  • San Fran­cisco has made signi­fic­ant progress in redu­cing its jail popu­la­tion. As of May 5, San Fran­cis­co’s jail popu­la­tion was 715, down from 1,110 in early March. 
  • On May 1, the presid­ing judge of Los Angeles County announced that 250 people are set to be released from jail to help combat the spread of Covid-19. This announce­ment came after a statewide ruling that sets bail amounts to $0 for many misde­meanor and some felony offenses. 
  • On Tues­day, June 16, the Cali­for­nia DOC announced that they will be releas­ing about 3,500 addi­tional incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als due to COVID-19. Their “community super­vi­sion plan” will allow the release of people who have six months or less to serve on their sentences, on the condi­tion that they remain “under close super­vi­sion” for the rest of their sentence.
  • On July 6, Cali­for­nia replaced its state correc­tion system’s top medical officer. The announce­ment came after Gov. Newsom criti­cized the trans­fer of hundreds of people to San Quentin, who had been incar­cer­ated at a Chino facil­ity with a bad outbreak, result­ing in six deaths as of July 6. Newsom announced that the popu­la­tion at San Quentin would be reduced by about 900 people over the next few weeks.
  • In the first week of July, active cases at San Quentin State Prison in Cali­for­nia increased from 1,000 to nearly 1,400, or by 40%. People incar­cer­ated there repor­ted horrific condi­tions, as well as wide­spread illness and death. The prison is currently hous­ing about 700 people over its capa­city.
  • The Cali­for­nia Depart­ment of Correc­tions and Rehab­il­it­a­tion announced on July 29 that it was suspend­ing intake at multiple youth facil­it­ies due to a recent spike in juven­ile cases, after restart­ing intake on May 26.
  • In Sacra­mento County, Sher­iff Scott Jones has refused to provide Covid-19 test­ing and case inform­a­tion to an over­sight board in charge of monit­or­ing the state’s jails. 
  • On August 6, state prison offi­cials in Cali­for­nia announced that as many as 17,600 people incar­cer­ated there may be released early due to the coronavirus. This would be 70% more than previ­ously estim­ated, and may include some people incar­cer­ated for viol­ent offenses.
  • As of Aug. 28, the Cali­for­nia state prison system has iden­ti­fied 10,377 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 859 of which tested posit­ive in the last two weeks. For the first time in months, the San Quentin prison has repor­ted less than 50 cases, with no new posit­ive cases in the last two weeks.
  • By Septem­ber 29, Cali­for­nia offi­cials repor­ted that half of all those incar­cer­ated in the Folsom State Prison have tested posit­ive for Covid-19.
  • On Octo­ber 20, a three-judge panel in the 1st District Court of Appeals ordered that the San Quentin state prison must release or trans­fer more than 1,000 people currently incar­cer­ated there, “after show­ing 'delib­er­ate indif­fer­ence’ to pris­on­ers’ health during an outbreak of the novel coronavirus”. Under the ruling, San Quentin can house no more than 1,775 people – a steep reduc­tion from the 2,900 people at the facil­ity at the time of the decision.
  • On Novem­ber 24, the Metro­pol­itan Deten­tion Center in Los Angeles repor­ted 231 active cases of Covid-19 within its walls, 219 among incar­cer­ated people and 12 between staff members. This flood of cases repres­ents the fourth largest active outbreak in the federal prison system in the pandemic so far, and the facil­ity shut down all visits in response.
  • On Decem­ber 2, the Depart­ment of Correc­tions disclosed that nearly 1,000 people held at the Cali­for­nia Substance Abuse Treat­ment Facil­ity and State Prison have active infec­tions of Covid-19; nearly all of the cases were repor­ted within two weeks of the announce­ment.
  • Within Los Angeles County’s juven­ile deten­tion system, more that 58 percent of chil­dren were quar­ant­ined during the week of Decem­ber 7 due to Covid-19 expos­ure. The depart­ment provides daily updates on the status of Covid-19 within its facil­it­ies, and the numbers of quar­ant­ined people have contin­ued to rise as more and more chil­dren present virus symp­toms.
  • On Decem­ber 12, a Super­ior Court judge in Orange County ordered that the county’s jail cut its popu­la­tion in half, find­ing that “the sher­iff had shown 'delib­er­ate indif­fer­ence’ to the seri­ous harm that the virus can pose to medic­ally vulner­able people in custody, viol­at­ing their state consti­tu­tional rights.”
  • Accord­ing to research released on Janu­ary 28, Cali­for­ni­a’s pris­ons and jails have been under­count­ing deaths related to Covid-19. Despite the surges in offi­cial numbers, true cases and death counts in the state’s carceral facil­it­ies are likely much higher, due to report­ing mistake, delays in track­ing, and differ­ences in data collec­tion across facil­it­ies.
  • A report released by the state inspector general on Febru­ary 1 blamed the “hast­ily executed trans­fer” of nearly 200 people from the Cali­for­nia Insti­tute for Man in May 2020 for spread­ing Covid-19 to the San Quentin state prison, where hundreds of incar­cer­ated people began test­ing posit­ive for the coronavirus and dozens of people died.
  • On Febru­ary 5, Cal/OSHA fined San Quentin $421,880 for its Covid-19 outbreak. Cal/OSHA cites a lack of train­ing and equip­ment for staff coming into contact with people who had contrac­ted Covid-19 in the insti­tu­tion and that staff at San Quentin who were exposed to a Covid-posit­ive patient did not have access to neces­sary services like contact tracing, test­ing, and medical refer­rals. The outbreak, which caused 2,240 Covid-19 cases and 28 deaths among people incar­cer­ated at San Quentin, occurred because of improper execu­tion of test­ing and coronavirus-related prepar­a­tion proced­ures before trans­fer­ring 122 people from the Cali­for­nia Insti­tute for Men to San Quentin. 
  • On Febru­ary 11, a report from the Sacra­mento County Sher­iff stated that a major Covid-19 outbreak had occurred in Sacra­mento County’s Elk Grove jail after 55 people were trans­ferred from the county’s down­town jail.
  • After less than a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, 94 percent of the men incar­cer­ated at Avenal state prison have contrac­ted Covid-19, and at least eight have died. The facil­ity repres­ents the largest cluster of coronavirus cases in U.S. pris­ons, and advoc­ates for people incar­cer­ated there main­tain that Cali­for­ni­a’s prison offi­cials have not learned from or imple­men­ted appro­pri­ate policy changes due to the disaster.
  • As of March 7, Covid-19 cases among people incar­cer­ated in Cali­for­nia state pris­ons had dropped 98% since Janu­ary of this year. The drastic decline has experts spec­u­lat­ing that the prison system has reached herd immunity for Covid-19; 78% of people incar­cer­ated in the state’s prison system have either been previ­ously diagnosed with Covid-19 or vaccin­ated for the virus.
  • On April 8, an invest­ig­a­tion of Donovan state prison in San Diego revealed that there had been a signi­fic­ant lack of medical atten­tion for incar­cer­ated people with Covid-19. Three Covid-19 patients incar­cer­ated in the insti­tu­tion were found unre­spons­ive in their cells. 
  • As of April 28, people being held at Los Angeles County jails were motiv­ated to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in hopes that they would be trans­ferred to state pris­ons more quickly, but advoc­ates do not know if this will neces­sar­ily happen due to legal factors involved in the trans­fer. The trans­fer­ring of people who have been convicted and sentenced from jails to state pris­ons has been slowed signi­fic­antly due to Covid-19.
  • On April 27, the Richard J. Donovan Correc­tional Facil­ity in Otay Mesa, Cali­for­nia had gone into Phase 1 lock­down, the most restrict­ive tier of coronavirus proto­cols, as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak at the facil­ity. The insti­tu­tion also had outdated infec­tion numbers on its website through­out the week.
  • By mid-May, less than half of work­ers in 30 of Cali­for­ni­a’s 35 pris­ons have gotten the coronavirus vaccine, despite having been eligible and offered vaccin­a­tions for months. This refusal to get vaccin­ated has increased risk for prison staff and incar­cer­ated people alike. A higher propor­tion of incar­cer­ated people in these facil­it­ies have opted into the Covid-19 vaccine.
  • On May 20, after a court-ordered medical inspec­tion of the BOP Lompoc Prison Complex, epidemi­olo­gist Dr. Homer Venters expressed extreme concern about the roughly 50% vaccin­a­tion rate inside the facil­ity. He attrib­uted the low vaccin­a­tion rate among incar­cer­ated people to the prison staff neglect­ing to address their concerns and ques­tions about the vaccine.
  • In July 2021, Cali­for­nia prison correc­tional officers nego­ti­ated new contract terms with the state that will ensure they receive nearly $5,000 in Covid-19 pandemic bonuses over two years.
  • By mid-August, several of Cali­for­ni­a’s main law enforce­ment agen­cies were report­ing Covid-19 vaccin­a­tion rates signi­fic­antly below those of the general popu­la­tion, along with seven state pris­ons that disclosed that less than a third of their officers are vaccin­ated.
  • On Octo­ber 5th, federal judges in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a Cali­for­nia law banning private prison contracts, which went into effect last year.
  • On Octo­ber 13, a tempor­ary restrain­ing order was placed on the federal ruling mandat­ing that all prison guards in Cali­for­nia must be vaccin­ated against Covid-19. While the prelim­in­ary injunc­tion filed only protects union­ized guards and peace officers, the mandate remains for other work­ers at pris­ons with health­care facil­it­ies. 
  • On Octo­ber 25, the San Benito County Jail in Hollister, Cali­for­nia began rein­stat­ing in-person visits as well as educa­tional programs for incar­cer­ated people after 18 months without either.
  • On Novem­ber 2, the Tulare County Jail announced that its month-long outbreak of Covid-19 is nearly over, with 72 out of the 75 posit­ive cases being fully recovered.
  • On Novem­ber 3, Sacra­mento County Offi­cials repor­ted that Covid-19 cases in its two facil­it­ies continue to rise and have accoun­ted for 94 active cases.
  • On Novem­ber 18, Marin County Super­ior Court Judge Geof­frey Howard ruled that the Cali­for­nia Depart­ment of Correc­tions and Rehab­il­it­a­tion inflic­ted cruel and unusual punish­ment on people incar­cer­ated at the San Quentin State Prison during a Covid-19 outbreak last summer that left more than 2,6000 people infec­ted. The ruling states that the CDCR acted with delib­er­ate indif­fer­ence and viol­ated the consti­tu­tional rights of nearly 300 people.

    On Novem­ber 27, a federal appeals court blocked an order requir­ing all prison work­ers to be vaccin­ated against Covid-19 by Janu­ary 12. The appel­late court has post­poned the dead­line until March, when the next hear­ing will occur.

Color­ado

  • On March 25, the Gov. Jared Polis signed an exec­ut­ive order that places a morator­ium on new prison intakes during the pandemic. It also grants the director of the Depart­ment of Correc­tions broad author­ity to release people within 180 days of their parole eligib­il­ity date and to suspend limits on award­ing earned time.
  • As of Septem­ber 9, judges in Color­ado had gran­ted only 12% of early release requests related to Covid-19.
  • On Novem­ber 4, the El Paso County jail repor­ted 755 cases of Covid-19 in a single week after the Sher­iff’s Office completed test­ing for all people incar­cer­ated there. The same day, outbreaks were ongo­ing at the Van Cise-Simonet Deten­tion Center (742 cases, nine more than the week before), the Ster­ling Correc­tional Facil­ity (706 cases, 21 more than the week before), and the Fremont Correc­tional Facil­ity (583 cases, up 164 from the week before).
  • On Sunday, Novem­ber 8, the El Paso County Jail repor­ted that 859 of the 1,246 people incar­cer­ated there tested posit­ive for the coronavirus, in addi­tion to 66 staff members.
  • On Novem­ber 19, the Jeffer­son County Deten­tion Facil­ity repor­ted that 57 incar­cer­ated people and 13 employ­ees tested posit­ive for Covid-19. Though they are conduct­ing regu­lar test­ing, results continue to be delayed between seven and nine days, result­ing in confu­sion and contin­ued trans­mis­sion with the facil­ity.
  • As part of a settle­ment with the ACLU of Color­ado, the Weld County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment agreed in Decem­ber to avoid taking some people accused of low-level offenses into custody. The settle­ment also prom­ises that the sher­iff’s office will do more to protect those held at the county jail, partic­u­larly people over 65 or with pre-exist­ing medical condi­tions.
  • On Decem­ber 9, the federal prison in Jeffer­son County, Color­ado repor­ted the largest outbreak in the federal prison system, with over half of the people incar­cer­ated there exper­i­en­cing Covid-19 infec­tions at the same time (451 active cases), in addi­tion to 50 staff members.
  • On Decem­ber 14, incar­cer­ated people at the El Paso County jail filed a class action lawsuit, alleging that jail staff and the sher­iff put their lives at risk by not provid­ing masks and fail­ing to protect people from the spread of Covid-19. Before early Novem­ber, when the jail finally provided some masks, people tried to fash­ion face cover­ings from under­wear and bedsheets but were punished for doing so, accord­ing to the lawsuit.
  • On Decem­ber 28, the Color­ado DOC repor­ted that four incar­cer­ated people died from Covid-19 over the Christ­mas holi­day week­end. Despite a decline in posit­ive tests across the state, people inside pris­ons and jails continue to face elev­ated risk of contract­ing the disease and limited access to health­care if they do. 
  • As incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als continue to die from coronavirus-related causes, the Color­ado DOC contin­ues to decline to say whether those people ever tested posit­ive for the disease, while also with­hold­ing their names, leav­ing peers in the dark about their expos­ure risks. As of Janu­ary 4, at least 700 incar­cer­ated people had active infec­tions accord­ing to the state data­base.
  • On March 7, the first three cases of B.1.351 vari­ant of Covid-19, origin­at­ing in South Africa, were found in Color­ado at Buena Vista Correc­tional Complex in Chaf­fee County. Two staff members and one incar­cer­ated person tested posit­ive for the new vari­ant, which may spread faster, be more deadly, and reduce the effect­ive­ness of currently avail­able vaccines.
  • On April 1, the Color­ado Depart­ment of Public Health and Envir­on­ment repor­ted that, while the state over­all had the fewest active Covid-19 cases since Octo­ber, numbers contin­ued to increase in correc­tional insti­tu­tions.
  • On May 25, El Paso County agreed to pay $65,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that misman­age­ment by the sher­iff led to an outbreak of Covid-19 within the county jail last year. The lawsuit was filed after more than 1,000 people held at the jail contrac­ted the coronavirus last fall.
  • On July 1, the Color­ado Court of Appeals revived a lawsuit filed by incar­cer­ated people against Gov. Jared Polis at the begin­ning of the pandemic. The lawsuit, which was dismissed by lower courts, sought to reduce the prison popu­la­tion with compas­sion­ate release to prevent the spread of Covid-19and aimed to prior­it­ize incar­cer­ated people for receiv­ing vaccines.
  • The Color­ado Depart­ment of Correc­tions spent nearly $2 million on a Covid-19 vaccine incent­ive program, but as of August 2, just 57% of Color­ado Depart­ment of Correc­tions staff are fully vaccin­ated. The vaccin­a­tion rate is slightly higher among incar­cer­ated people with 64% being vaccin­ated.
  • On August 17, the Color­ado Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that it will require all staff members within correc­tional facil­it­ies to get vaccin­ated against Covid-19.

Connecti­cut

  • In May, the DOC Commis­sioner of Connecti­cut gran­ted discre­tion­ary release to 560 people who had served at least 40% of their sentences.
  • Follow­ing a federal lawsuit, as of June 6, the Connecti­cut Depart­ment of Correc­tion is now required to identify people 65 and older who meet specific medical criteria to “fast track” them for release consid­er­a­tion. 
  • Famil­ies and advoc­ates of people incar­cer­ated in Connecti­cut pris­ons have contin­ued to push for the release of those held on bail across the state, who face elev­ated risks of expos­ure to Covid-19 behind bars without even being convicted of any crime. On Octo­ber 1, more than 2,800 people were held on bail in Connecti­c­ut’s correc­tional facil­it­ies, more than 60 percent of whom had bond amounts of $100,000 or higher.
  • On Monday, Febru­ary 1, Connecti­cut correc­tional staff and some elderly incar­cer­ated people began receiv­ing Covid-19 vaccin­a­tions. Both staff and incar­cer­ated people are among the prior­it­ized groups of Phase 1B, but the state is choos­ing to delay making inocu­la­tions avail­able to incar­cer­ated people under age 75.
  • On Decem­ber 8, the Connecti­cut Depart­ment of Correc­tions suspen­ded in-person visit­a­tion at all state pris­ons. The agency claims that visit­a­tion will resume when the Covid-19 posit­iv­ity rate dips under five percent.
  • On Janu­ary 5, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) sent a letter to Attor­ney General Merrick Garland call­ing for an invest­ig­a­tion into the federal women’s prison in Danbury. The letter alleges that when more than half of the women incar­cer­ated at the prison tested posit­ive for Covid-19, staff did not imme­di­ately isol­ate them or inform people that they had tested posit­ive for the virus, instead return­ing more than a dozen people with active posit­ive cases to general popu­la­tion dorms.
  • On Janu­ary 6, Connecti­c­ut’s prison system repor­ted a system-wide outbreak of Covid-19, with roughly 600 active cases among incar­cer­ated people in the state. Almost one fifth of the DOC staff, over 1,000 people, has also tested posit­ive as part of the same omic­ron outbreak.

Delaware

  • Delaware’s Sussex Correc­tional Insti­tu­tion repor­ted 130 cases on July 10, after all of Delaware’s state pris­ons were declared Covid-free in late May. SCI repor­ted its first three cases on July 1, and the cases increased to 58 by July 6, doub­ling as of the 10th.
  • On March 5, Delaware Depart­ment of Correc­tions offi­cials announced that people incar­cer­ated in the state’s prison system will be able to have in-person visit­ors start­ing March 16. The DOC suspen­ded in-person visits in Novem­ber when Covid case rates were high through­out the state, espe­cially in pris­ons.
  • On March 9, Delaware correc­tions commis­sioner, Claire DeMat­teis, announced that the state’s prison system will begin allow­ing in-person visit­ors again start­ing March 16. The pris­ons have been closed to the public since Novem­ber of 2020.
  • State Repres­ent­at­ive Melissa Minor-Brown intro­duced a bill that would give incar­cer­ated people extra credit for the time they spend behind pars during a public crisis. For every month served in crisis, their sentence would be reduced by six months and the maximum reduc­tion would be one year. The bill would apply to both Covid-19 and any future public health crisis, and it is currently await­ing action on the House floor.
  • On Octo­ber 21, Gov. John Carey announced plans to imple­ment the Recidiv­ism Reduc­tion Blue­print, a program aimed at redu­cing recidiv­ism in Delaware by strength­en­ing voca­tional train­ing options in its pris­ons and help­ing those recently released with secur­ing job place­ments.
  • On Decem­ber 8, York County announced that it would extend the lock­down of the county’s prison facil­ity as Covid-19 cases continue to rise. In-person visit­a­tion and non-essen­tial travel remain suspen­ded under the lock­down.

District of Columbia

  • After DC reduced its jail popu­la­tion by 500 inmates, a US District judge ordered changes on June 18 to better protect incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als from Covid-19 at the DC Jail. She noted that there was evid­ence that the DOC was “aware of the risks” and “disreg­arded those risks” by fail­ing to take appro­pri­ate steps to stem the virus’s spread.
  • On April 14, the Wash­ing­ton Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, School Justice Project, and Terris Prav­lik & Millian LLP jointly sued DC Public Schools, the Office of the State Super­in­tend­ent of Educa­tion, and the District of Columbia for provid­ing inad­equate educa­tional services to students with Indi­vidu­al­ized Educa­tion Programs in the DC jail. These students are entitled to special educa­tion until age 22, but since the pandemic, their instruc­tion has been limited to incon­sist­ent short work pack­ets and little to no feed­back from instruct­ors.
  • As of April 19, the DC jail had been on a 23 hour a day lock­down for over 400 days. Jail offi­cials argue that the lock­down is the only way for them to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks in the facil­ity, but advoc­ates argue that the excess­ive time in lock­down has become a human rights issue.
  • As of May 4, the DC Depart­ment of Correc­tions was letting people held at the DC jail leave their cells for two hours a day instead of the one they have been allowed since the begin­ning of the pandemic. The DOC plans to continue to adjust the amount of time that incar­cer­ated people can leave their cell as vaccin­a­tions increase and restric­tions are dropped.
  • Begin­ning May 15, the DC jail partially relaxed its 22-hour-a-day lock­down by allow­ing vaccin­ated people behind bars to resume some of their pre-pandemic activ­it­ies.

Flor­ida

  • As of August 7, at least 14 parole-eligible men have died behind bars in Flor­ida from Covid-19. The Flor­ida House Crim­inal Justice Chair­man James Grant, contin­ues to claim that it is not an “accept­able approach” to let people out of prison because of the pandemic.
  • Just before Thanks­giv­ing, the Flor­ida Depart­ment of Correc­tions began re-allow­ing visit­a­tion to its facil­it­ies, under a “modi­fied visit­a­tion” plan. No visit can exceed three hours, and plastic screens separ­ate incar­cer­ated people from their visit­ors. No form of phys­ical contact is permit­ted, vend­ing machines are off-limits for visit­ors, and no chil­dren under 12 are allowed in the facil­it­ies. Despite concerns about the virus being brought by visit­ors, correc­tions officers and other staffers have not been isol­ated in any way and continue to enter and leave the facil­it­ies every day.
  • In the midst of two large, ongo­ing Covid-19 outbreaks at differ­ent pris­ons, the Flor­ida Depart­ment of Correc­tions elim­in­ated much of its public data about coronavirus in its prison system, remov­ing prison-by-prison data and test­ing inform­a­tion from the site, and now only updat­ing the dash­board weekly. The changes make it impossible to determ­ine posit­iv­ity rates across the state’s network of pris­ons, and further obfus­cates access to inform­a­tion about the status of Covid-19 within a specific facil­ity. The dash­board also now only provides the number of posit­ive staff cases for all facil­it­ies, which used to be broken down by facil­ity.
  • On Janu­ary 26, the Palm Beach sher­iff announced that more than 100 people had tested posit­ive at County jails in the past two weeks, result­ing in more than a third of the nearly 1300 people held at the main jail being placed in quar­ant­ine await­ing further test results.
  • During the same week, staff at Flor­ida pris­ons began asking incar­cer­ated people if they would volun­teer to be vaccin­ated, but did not provide inform­a­tion about the process or the vaccine itself. Across the state, incar­cer­ated people were “given the choice to fill out a vaccine refusal form or add their name to a vaccine sign-up list,” without other details being announced.
  • As of March 10, Gov. DeSantis had yet to make Covid-19 vaccines avail­able to indi­vidu­als incar­cer­ated in Flor­id­a’s state pris­ons. Incar­cer­ated people over 65, whose age qual­i­fies them for a vaccine as part of the state’s current distri­bu­tion phase, have not received it. Gov. DeSantis’ office has not provided a timeline for when vaccines will be avail­able to people in Flor­ida state pris­ons.
  • On March 22, Marion County jail began vaccin­at­ing people over 60, making them some of the first incar­cer­ated people to be vaccin­ated in Flor­ida. 
  • On April 7, Flor­ida state offi­cials repor­ted that they will make Covid-19 vaccines avail­able to incar­cer­ated people and prison staff through­out the state over the course of the next two weeks. Advoc­ates argue that vaccine distri­bu­tion should be accom­pan­ied by wide­spread inform­a­tion about the vaccine, so incar­cer­ated people will have adequate know­ledge to decide whether they want to be vaccin­ated.
  • On May 3, a survey of incar­cer­ated people in Flor­ida repor­ted that many remain skep­tical of the Covid-19 vaccine. Lack of access to inform­a­tion and a history of medical racism resul­ted in only 40% of the state’s prison popu­la­tion indic­at­ing that they would seek vaccin­a­tion. 
  • On June 24, the Flor­ida Depart­ment of Correc­tions (FDC) announced its facil­it­ies were return­ing to “normal, non-emer­gency oper­a­tions,” citing the avail­ab­il­ity of vaccines and the lack of Covid-19 cases. The FDC will no longer report Covid-19 data or require face masks for staff, visit­ors, and incar­cer­ated people. This change is contrary to the latest guid­ance from the CDC which says that people in pris­ons should continue to wear masks.

Geor­gia

  • On Septem­ber 14, the South­ern Center for Human Rights filed a letter urging the Depart­ment of Justice to inter­vene in Geor­gi­a’s prison system to address the state’s hand­ling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Concerns in the letter include under­staff­ing, unpre­ced­en­ted suicide rates in response to “extreme neglect of persons with psychi­at­ric disab­il­it­ies”, homicides within the pris­ons, and riots that have broken out in multiple facil­it­ies after incar­cer­ated people were “left locked in their cells, nearly 24/7, for weeks or months, often in repre­hens­ible condi­tions”.
  • On March 26, Fulton County Manager, Dick Ander­son, estim­ated that it will take the Geor­gia county, which includes the city of Atlanta, 36 months and $60 million to clear the back­log of approx­im­ately 10,000 cases in the county. Approx­im­ately 50% of people incar­cer­ated in the county’s jail have not been form­ally indicted, and as of mid-Febru­ary, 735 people held at that jail had been there for over a year. 
  • Local Geor­gia judges in Hall County and Dawson County are offer­ing sentence reduc­tions to incar­cer­ated people who choose to get vaccin­ated. By June, several dozens of people have been offered sentence reduc­tions. 

Hawai’i

  • Begin­ning August 19, some incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als in Hawai’i’s largest jail were released early due to the ongo­ing Covid-19 outbreak inside OCCC.
  • By late Novem­ber, the Covid-19 outbreak among people incar­cer­ated out of the Hawaii prison system serving time in a privately oper­ated facil­ity in Arizona had grown into the largest infec­tion cluster in the Hawaii correc­tional system. More than half of the people serving time at the Arizona facil­ity were infec­ted, and one incar­cer­ated person was confirmed to have died on Tues­day, Novem­ber 19.
  • On Decem­ber 16, a union repres­ent­ing hundreds of Hawaii prison employ­ees protested that the state is fail­ing to protect incar­cer­ated people and staff from an outbreak of Covid-19. The union also repor­ted that employ­ees at the Halawa facil­ity have been work­ing up to 36-hour shifts under hazard­ous condi­tions, increas­ing health concerns.
  • On May 17, half of the new recruits being trained to serve as correc­tional officers in Hawaii’s pris­ons and jails tested posit­ive for Covid-19 after the vast major­ity of the class declined offers to get vaccin­ated.
  • On May 29, more than five dozen people held at the Hawaii Community Correc­tional Center received posit­ive results on tests for Covid-19. The jail remains on lock­down in response to the outbreak, which has only infec­ted one staff member so far.
  • On June 10, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of incar­cer­ated people in Hawaii, arguing that the state has failed to protect incar­cer­ated people from Covid-19. The lawsuit reports that five out of nine facil­it­ies have exper­i­enced “uncon­trolled outbreaks,” which have resul­ted in at least nine deaths. 
  • As of June 12, 198 incar­cer­ated people at Hawaii Community Correc­tional Center in Hilo have tested posit­ive for Covid-19. At the time of the announce­ment, 119 were active Covid-19 cases, and two staff members had been hospit­al­ized. 
  • As of June 25, more than half of Hawaii’s prison popu­la­tion have been vaccin­ated against Covid-19. Vaccin­a­tion rates range from 89% in Kulani Correc­tional Facil­ity to just 23% at Hilo jail.
  • On July 13, a federal court ordered the Hawaii Correc­tional system to actu­ally abide by its own Pandemic Response Plan, but did not appoint anyone to over­see efforts to prevent infec­tions.
  • On Thursday, August 5, the Hawaii Depart­ment of Public Safety repor­ted that 20 out of 106 incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als at the Maui Community Correc­tional Center and 18 out of 86 incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als at Halawa Correc­tional Center tested posit­ive for Covid-19.
  • On Septem­ber 1st, the State Office of Public Defend­ers filed its third peti­tion to the Hawaii Supreme Court, hoping to address over­crowding in the state’s prison facil­it­ies amid a surge in Covid-19 cases.
  • On Octo­ber 16, Hawaii’s Depart­ment of Public Safety announced it would credit $50 to the accounts of incar­cer­ated people who become fully vaccin­ated against Covid-19. This comes as a result of a state-wide spike in coronavirus cases, which also suspen­ded all jury trials until Novem­ber 16.

Idaho 

  • As of Septem­ber 28, nearly 30% of men incar­cer­ated in Idaho who had been trans­ferred to a private prison in Arizona have tested posit­ive for Covid-19.
  • On March 19, Idaho’s top vaccine plan­ning panel voted to allow incar­cer­ated people to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in the state’s current vaccin­a­tion phase. Rollout to incar­cer­ated people will not be based on age.
  • On May 20, the Idaho state courts announced updated Covid-19 guidelines, includ­ing a case-by-case approach to opting for online or in-person court proceed­ings and chan­ging the mask mandate to an advis­ory.
  • On July 14, the Asso­ci­ated Press repor­ted that pris­ons in Idaho are so under­staffed that correc­tional officers are work­ing mandat­ory 16-hour shifts, leav­ing them just eight hours to sleep, eat, and see their famil­ies before return­ing to work. About one-quarter of correc­tional officer posi­tions are vacant.

Illinois

  • On Septem­ber 8, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago over­turned key parts of an earlier court order that preven­ted the Cook County Jail from using double-occu­pancy cells or dorm-style hous­ing, both of which have been exacer­bat­ing compon­ents of Covid-19 outbreaks in pris­ons and jails.
  • Illinois’ updated Covid-19 vaccin­a­tion plan, released on Janu­ary 19, will prior­it­ize incar­cer­ated people along with all other resid­ents of congreg­ate settings, placing them above people under the age of 65 with high-risk medical condi­tions.
  • On Febru­ary 12, Illinois repres­ent­at­ives repor­ted that the state will begin vaccin­at­ing incar­cer­ated the follow­ing week. The decision came after the state revised its vaccine distri­bu­tion guidelines in late Decem­ber.
  • Indi­vidu­als held at the St. Clair County Jail have repor­ted "nine months without personal protect­ive devices, incon­sist­ent disin­fect­ing efforts, spotty test­ing, and chronic over­crowding," which they believe has led Covid-19 to spread consist­ently through­out the jail while staff and the state health depart­ment ignore their concerns. The jail’s public affairs officer acknow­ledged face cover­ings, hand sanit­izer, and social distan­cing meas­ures have all been limited, in part due to the jail’s near-constant oper­a­tion over capa­city.
  • On March 12, the Cook County sher­iff’s office announced that in-person visits would resume at the county’s jail for the first time since Novem­ber. The decision comes after the number of posit­ive cases in the facil­ity has remained under 20 in the two weeks before the announce­ment.
  • On March 25, the Illinois Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted that more than 1,000 people incar­cer­ated in the state’s pris­ons will be eligible for early release follow­ing a lawsuit aimed at protect­ing vulner­able popu­la­tions from Covid-19.
  • On March 23, the Illinois Depart­ment of Correc­tions settled an April 2020 lawsuit to protect medic­ally vulner­able and elderly incar­cer­ated people, which will result in either early release or elec­tronic home monit­or­ing for over 1,000 incar­cer­ated people in Illinois. The state’s Depart­ment of Correc­tions will give those who are released credit for good beha­vior within nine months of their release and another 60 days to those who are deemed low and medium risk within the next month. 
  • As of May 4, 69% of incar­cer­ated people and 36% of correc­tions staff had been vaccin­ated for Covid-19 in Illinois. The state is phas­ing back in-person visits and counties are push­ing to trans­fer people from county jails to state pris­ons.
  • On May 10, a study found that “relat­ively brief stays at the Cook County Jail — many last­ing only hours or days — were strongly asso­ci­ated with the early spread of COVID-19 in Chicago,” where each person released in March 2020 led to about five addi­tional cases of Covid-19 in that person’s ZIP code of resid­ence.
  • At a press confer­ence on May 17, Cook County Sher­iff Tom Dart deman­ded that the state prison system restart trans­fers from the Cook County Jail, where the sher­iff’s depart­ment has spent more than $38 million hous­ing indi­vidu­als rather than trans­fer­ring them to state pris­ons. These delays were inten­ded as tempor­ary stop­gaps to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in prison facil­it­ies, but have resul­ted in some people being held for the year without any of the program­ming or support offered in pris­ons that are not avail­able at county jails.
  • In Chicago this spring, legal advocacy groups have been imple­ment­ing educa­tion campaigns to combat vaccine hesit­ancy among incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als. The Illinois Depart­ment of Correc­tions has also desig­nated specific currently incar­cer­ated people to be vaccine ambas­sad­ors. 
  • By the end of June, the Chicago Sun-Times repor­ted that less than half of the 13,000 people who work in Illinois’ state pris­ons have been vaccin­ated, while two-thirds of all incar­cer­ated people are vaccin­ated.
  • On August 4, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a vaccine mandate for state prison employ­ees, a response to the low rates of vaccin­a­tion among prison staff in the state.

Indi­ana

  • The state of Indi­ana has allowed county courts to decide whether people would be released early from state pris­ons, after Gov. Holcomb stated in March that he did not “believe in releas­ing those low-level offend­ers.” As a result, only 3.8% of Indi­ana’s prison popu­la­tion was released between March and June.
  • To prevent the spread of Covid-19 this summer, the Indi­ana Women’s Prison prison has been lock­ing the doors to hous­ing units, but the units do not have air condi­tion­ing. Women incar­cer­ated there are repor­ted to have passed out from heat exhaus­tion and exper­i­enced seizures.
  • On Janu­ary 8, Indi­ana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that the state’s vaccine prior­it­iz­a­tion plan would not include incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als, while prison staff have already begun receiv­ing the vaccine.
  • As of April 19, the Tippeca­noe County jail in Indi­ana was using modi­fied mask proto­cols in which people are not required to wear masks in secured areas. The jail currently does not have any Covid-19 cases, but the county sher­iff reports that the jail would shift to a stricter mask­ing proced­ure if case numbers increase.
  • As of May 24, the Indi­ana Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted it had a 78% vaccine accept­ance rate among incar­cer­ated people, which is higher than Indi­ana’s general popu­la­tion vaccine accept­ance rate.
  • The Amer­ican Civil Liber­ties Union of Indi­ana filed a lawsuit on behalf of six people incar­cer­ated at Miami Correc­tional Facil­ity near Peru, Indi­ana. The lawsuit alleges that the facil­ity’s condi­tions amoun­ted to cruel and unusual punish­ment as the six men were held in isol­a­tion cells with no lights and some of them suffered cuts from broken window glass and were shocked from dangling wires from a broken light fixture.

Iowa

  • On April 20, the Iowa Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that the DOC is in the process of letting 482 incar­cer­ated people out early to help prevent the spread of the Covid-19. 90 more people have been approved for future releases.
  • Iowa, as the only state without a compas­sion­ate release law, employed a second parole board to prior­it­ize the release of medic­ally vulner­able incar­cer­ated people. By Septem­ber 14, the state’s incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion was at a 20-year low.
  • In one week­end, the number of Covid-19 cases in the Iowa prison system jumped from 601 to 1,136. On Novem­ber 8, the Iowa Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that the Anamosa State Penit­en­tiary housed 485 active cases, while the Clarinda Correc­tional Facil­ity repor­ted 368 cases over the week­end and the North Cent­ral Correc­tional Facil­ity repor­ted 253 active cases.
  • The Iowa Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted its first Covid-19-related staff death on Novem­ber 18, in addi­tion to three deaths of incar­cer­ated people in the same week.
  • Follow­ing the twelfth death of an incar­cer­ated person during the state prison system’s coronavirus outbreak, on Decem­ber 11, the Iowa Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted 313 active infec­tions of Covid-19 among incar­cer­ated people. In addi­tion to the people left to die behind bars, two staff members of the Iowa prison system have died from Covid-19.
  • Despite vaccin­a­tions becom­ing avail­able to prison staff and educa­tional campaigns run by the state, almost half of Iowa’s correc­tional employ­ees had refused to take the Covid-19 vaccine by Janu­ary 8, with only 52 percent of work­ers agree­ing to receive the vaccine.
  • On Febru­ary 3, data from 2020 showed that the rate at which parole peti­tions were gran­ted in Iowa dropped by 4% compared to 2019. However, the number of parole hear­ings rose by 8% and the total number of incar­cer­ated people approved for parole also increased by 4%. The new data comes from a report released by the Prison Policy Initi­at­ive.
  • As of April 22, the Iowa Depart­ment of Correc­tions resumed vaccin­a­tions of incar­cer­ated people after almost a three month pause. The state’s DOC has not received more doses from the state but is work­ing with county health depart­ments to secure more doses for people in state pris­ons. On April 23, the Iowa State Penit­en­tiary in Fort Madison vaccin­ated at least 77 people incar­cer­ated at the insti­tu­tion with six times the recom­men­ded dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. The DOC halted admin­is­tra­tion of the vaccine at the prison and two nurses who had been admin­is­ter­ing the vaccine were placed on leave pending an invest­ig­a­tion.
  • On June 7, the Iowa Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced it will resume in-person visit­a­tion for incar­cer­ated people who have been fully vaccin­ated against Covid-19. At the time, the Iowa Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted that more than 58% of people incar­cer­ated in the state’s prison system were fully vaccin­ated. 
  • On June 15, the Iowa Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that two nurses who gave Covid-19 vaccine over­doses to 77 incar­cer­ated people at a Fort Madison Maximum Secur­ity Prison had been fired. Since receiv­ing up to six times the recom­men­ded dose of Pfizer, the 77 indi­vidu­als have been monitored and are repor­ted to be in good health. One of the two nurses fired for giving incar­cer­ated people large over­doses of the Covid-19 vaccine is appeal­ing her termin­a­tion, arguing she is “blame­less” for the acci­dent. 
  • On August 18th, The Iowa Depart­ment of Correc­tions inform­a­tion that incar­cer­ated women at the Iowa Correc­tional Insti­tu­tion in Mitchellville are being paid to assemble Covid-19 at-home test kit in a joint project with Iowa Depart­ment of Public Health and State Hygienic Lab.
  • On August 25th, The Iowa Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted that prison popu­la­tions statewide are down signi­fic­antly from their record a decade ago, due to the imple­ment­a­tion of Covid-19 mitig­a­tion policies. The pandemic slowed new admis­sions due to delays in court hear­ings and trials, and the state also imple­men­ted a more aggress­ive approach to identi­fy­ing people eligible for parole or work release.

Kansas

  • On April 9, the ACLU filed a class-action peti­tion asking the Kansas Supreme Court to imme­di­ately release incar­cer­ated people in Kansas DOC facil­it­ies who have preex­ist­ing medical condi­tions, which leave them espe­cially vulner­able to Covid-19. The peti­tion also seeks to imme­di­ately free incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als who are within 18 months of complet­ing their sentences as well as those imprisoned for minor offenses.
  • In response to a mid-July second spike in Covid-19 cases, Kansas pris­ons are attempt­ing to spread out dorm­it­ory hous­ing, which comprises about a third of the state’s prison beds. The Kansas DOC contin­ues to dispute accus­a­tions by incar­cer­ated people that there are not suffi­cient hygienic prac­tices or PPE avail­able in the pris­ons.
  • On Novem­ber 12, Sher­iff David Duke announced that the Wichita County Jail would limit new admis­sions to the jail, only hold­ing people charged with “seri­ous felon­ies and viol­ent crimes.”
  • At the Topeka Correc­tional Facil­ity, a cohort of newly incar­cer­ated people is being held at an “intake isol­a­tion unit” inside an unused portion of the prison. The quar­ant­ine period, during which no one may leave the unit grounds, is reportedly 21 days. However, family members of incar­cer­ated people have protested that the entire cohort must test negat­ive before anyone is trans­ferred to the pris­on’s general popu­la­tion. Anytime someone is infec­ted, the 21-day clock resets on the entire group, leav­ing people in a “moldy” tent with “one bath­room for the 38 women and cold temper­at­ures each morn­ing, while the mandate to be socially distant is all but impossible.”
  • In an inter­view on Decem­ber 23, Gov. Laura Kelly repeatedly indic­ated her support for vaccin­at­ing Kansas’ incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion before the general public, explain­ing: “We do know that congreg­ate living centers are hotspots, whether you talk about pris­ons, you talk about nurs­ing homes…the only way ulti­mately to rid those kinds of facil­it­ies of the virus is for the vaccin­a­tion to come. It makes all sorts of sense for us to include all congreg­ate settings in the first line of vaccines.”
  • As of Febru­ary 14, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly had not gran­ted clem­ency to anyone incar­cer­ated in the state’s prison system. The state govern­ment has received more than 100 request for clem­ency (double the number of requests in previ­ous years), many of which are related to concerns about Covid-19.
  • On March 17, the Kansas state Senate approved a bill to suspend a law that protects people’s right to a speedy trial, requir­ing that a trial take place within five months if a person is in jail and six months if they are out of jail on bond. The law will be suspen­ded until May 1, 2023 in an effort to allow prosec­utors to catch up on a back­log of trials intro­duced by the pandemic.
  • On Septem­ber 14th, Charlie Hunt, the deputy director of the John­son County Depart­ment of Health and Envir­on­ment, repor­ted that vaccin­a­tions have proven their impact in the state’s jails and pris­ons. With 78 percent of incar­cer­ated people in Kansas being vaccin­ated, cases declined from 6,114 in early 2020 through March 2021 to only 72 cases from March through Septem­ber 2.
  • On Octo­ber 7, the Kansas Depart­ment of Correc­tions stated that people incar­cer­ated at the El Dorado Correc­tional Facil­ity are spend­ing more time in their cells and have less access to programs and activ­it­ies due to staff­ing short­ages. The facil­ity has declared an emer­gency since 2019 when staff short­ages led to multiple disturb­ances and this issue has yet to resolve.

Kentucky

  • On March 30, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed an exec­ut­ive order that will release nearly 900 people detained in state prison, in the state’s first phase of redu­cing their prison popu­la­tion. Before their release, each indi­vidual will be tested for Covid-19 and the state will verify whether they have a home in which they can be quar­ant­ined. 
  • In response to a late-July spike in cases, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear author­ized the early release of nearly 700 more indi­vidu­als from state pris­ons at the begin­ning of August. The release criteria is the same as those used in the early release of 1,200 indi­vidu­als at the onset of the pandemic, prior­it­iz­ing those vulner­able to Covid-19 and exclud­ing those convicted of sexual and viol­ent crimes.
  • In an outbreak that began in mid-Decem­ber, the East­ern Kentucky Correc­tional Complex repor­ted on Janu­ary 13 that 728 people were actively infec­ted (about 50 percent of the facil­ity’s incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion). In addi­tion, 80 staff members were actively infec­ted, with the outbreak show­ing no signs of slow­ing down.
  • As of March 12, two pris­ons in Lyon County, Kentucky repor­ted 851 combined Covid-19 cases among staff and incar­cer­ated people; three incar­cer­ated people have died between the two pris­ons in this outbreak. The state’s Depart­ment of Correc­tions says it has insti­tuted increased sanit­ary meas­ures as well as a mask mandate in pris­ons.
  • As of March 23, 50.9% of the Kentucky Depart­ment of Correc­tions staff had received the Covid-19 vaccine. The state has had the second worst infec­tion rate among all pris­ons in the United States.
  • On April 12, Kentucky announced that it will allow vaccin­ated visit­ors in the state’s pris­ons once 80% of incar­cer­ated people have been vaccin­ated. 69% of the state’s prison popu­la­tion has been vaccin­ated so far.
  • On June 20, Kentucky pris­ons will begin allow­ing in-person visit­a­tion for vaccin­ated visit­ors. At the time of the announce­ment, 76 percent of the states prison popu­la­tion had been vaccin­ated against Covid-19.

Louisi­ana 

  • Between March and June, the Louisi­ana Depart­ment of Correc­tions began a furlough program inten­ded to reduce over­crowding and release those at highest risk of contract­ing Covid-19 behind bars. However, out of the 1,100 eligible cases, the review panel only considered 594 and released just 68 on furlough. Of those 68, only 34 have been entirely released from state custody. The panel was suspen­ded in mid-June.
  • Accord­ing to a report released on Decem­ber 15, correc­tional offi­cials at all levels of the Louisi­ana prison, jail, and immig­ra­tion deten­tion systems failed to do enough to protect people from the spread of Covid-19, lead­ing to “unne­ces­sary death and suffer­ing” during the pandemic.
  • By the end of Janu­ary, Louisi­ana had offered the first shot of a Covid-19 vaccine to all people over the age of 70 who are incar­cer­ated in a a state-run facil­ity. About 82 percent volun­teered to receive the shot, which was made avail­able to incar­cer­ated people roughly a week after the general public (those above the age of 70) was allowed access.
  • As of March 11, the Louisi­ana Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that it will begin phas­ing in in-person visits in the state’s pris­ons start­ing March 13. Visits have been suspen­ded since March of 2020. Visit­ors will be required to be registered as an approved visitor, main­tain social distan­cing, wear a face cover­ing, and pass a temper­at­ure screen­ing before enter­ing. 
  • On March 16, the Orleans Parish Sher­iff repor­ted that their office had began vaccin­at­ing people in its custody. The office is wait­ing to receive more doses of the vaccine and plans to target them toward incar­cer­ated people over 55.
  • As of April 6, just under a quarter of people held in the New Orleans jail had been vaccin­ated for Covid-19. Every­one over the age of 16 is eligible to be vaccin­ated in Louisi­ana as of late March.
  • Data from the Louisi­ana Depart­ment of Correc­tions showed that about 40% of the incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion tested posit­ive for Covid-19. However, the Louisi­ana Legis­lat­ive Audit emphas­ized that the review only paints half a picture as the LDOC did collect tests results or infec­tion rates from local jails.
  • In early July, the Louisi­ana audit­or’s office reviewed expenses reim­bursed to the Louisi­ana State Penit­en­tiary by the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund and found that 99 percent of the expenses “did not have docu­ment­a­tion to support that the expendit­ure was incurred due to [a] public health emer­gency.” Some of the ques­tion­able expenses include the purchase of lawn­mowers, horse feed, and tract­ors.
  • On July 27, the LDOC suspen­ded in-person visit­a­tion and volun­teer­ing until at least August 16th due to the increase in Covid-19 cases. There are currently 45 Covid-19 cases among incar­cer­ated people and 36 among LDOC employ­ees. 
  • Between the first and second weeks of August, the number of Covid-19 cases among people incar­cer­ated in Louisi­ana state pris­ons has gone up nearly 150 percent. The largest outbreak is again at Dixon Correc­tional Insti­tute in Jack­son, where 52 incar­cer­ated people and 15 staff members tested posit­ive within days of each other.
  • On Octo­ber 16, the Louisi­ana prison system announced it would begin allow­ing in-person visit­a­tion again, after paus­ing visits for three months. In order to parti­cip­ate, all parties must be fully vaccin­ated.
  • On Janu­ary 5, the Louisi­ana state prison system announced that it would again be shut­ting down all in-person visit­a­tion, a week after it suspen­ded all volun­teer activ­it­ies inside facil­it­ies. The state will instead offer two free phone calls per week, while still char­ging for video calls.

Maine 

  • By Septem­ber 5, 46 people incar­cer­ated at the York County Jail tested posit­ive for coronavirus after an employee atten­ded an indoor wedding then brought Covid-19 back to the jail. Before the outbreak, no one at the facil­ity was required to wear a mask.
  • On Novem­ber 3, the Maine Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted an outbreak at the Maine Correc­tional Center, with 72 incar­cer­ated people test­ing posit­ive for the coronavirus. The same week, at least nine staff members were also diagnosed with Covid-19.
  • As of March 5, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Preven­tion, stated that he does not know when the state will begin vaccin­at­ing incar­cer­ated people. Shah says the state intends to vaccin­ate incar­cer­ated people based on the age categor­ies in the state’s vaccine distri­bu­tion plan. Currently, Maine resid­ents who are 60 years or older are eligible for the vaccine.
  • On April 30, 24 women incar­cer­ated at the Women’s Center at the Maine Correc­tional Center in Wind­ham had tested posit­ive for Covid-19 in the most extens­ive outbreak at the facil­ity.
  • As of April 30, just 17% of Maine’s incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion had received their final Covid-19 vaccine doses. Vaccin­a­tion rates among people incar­cer­ated in jails ranged from 0% in Wiscas­set County to 70% in Piscata­quis County. 
  • On Novem­ber 29, Kennebec County Sher­iff repor­ted a Covid-19 outbreak at the Kennebec County Correc­tional Facil­ity, result­ing in the infec­tion of 10 people. The prison is limit­ing the number of intakes till the coronavirus spread slows.

Mary­land

  • On April 19, Mary­land Gov. Larry Hogan signed an exec­ut­ive order that exped­ites the release of indi­vidu­als incar­cer­ated at state pris­ons who were eligible for release within four months. The order also directs the Mary­land Parole Commis­sion to accel­er­ate consid­er­a­tion of parole for indi­vidu­als convicted of nonvi­ol­ent crimes who are older than 60 and have an approved plan for re-entry to soci­ety. The Governor’s office estim­ates that the order will alto­gether affect close to 800 people.
  • On April 27, Maryland’s secret­ary of juven­ile services announced that the state has released nearly 200 people from juven­ile deten­tion centers amid Covid-19 concerns. 
  • On Octo­ber 21, Maryland’s DOC repor­ted that more than 70 incar­cer­ated people and 16 employ­ees at the Cecil County jail tested posit­ive for Covid-19 within a week of each other, the largest outbreak in the Mary­land state system since the pandemic began in March.
  • On Novem­ber 17, Mary­land Gov. Larry Hogan issued an exec­ut­ive order that allows some incar­cer­ated people to be released early, in an effort to stem the pandemic among both incar­cer­ated people and prison employ­ees. Under the order, those eligible for early release or home deten­tion include people whose prison term is set to expire within the next four months and who are not serving time for a viol­ent or sexual offense. Age, medical condi­tions, and other special needs are also to be considered in release decisions.
  • On April 15, a lawsuit filed against the Mary­land Depart­ment of Public Safety and Correc­tional Services by people incar­cer­ated at the Ches­apeake Deten­tion Facil­ity in Baltimore was settled. The settle­ment requires the state to provide vaccines to people incar­cer­ated at the insti­tu­tion, inspect the facil­ity monthly, and enforce social distan­cing and sanit­a­tion meas­ures to reduce the spread of Covid-19. 
  • On April 21, the Mary­land public defender filed a complaint against the Harford County Deten­tion Center after the jail stopped allow­ing virtual meet­ings for attor­neys with their clients. The public defend­er’s office argued that elim­in­at­ing the prac­tice “unreas­on­ably infringes” defend­ants’ rights to coun­sel and puts attor­neys and clients at risk for contract­ing or spread­ing Covid-19.
  • On May 10, a federal judge ordered the state of Mary­land to “provide status reports and updates” detail­ing ongo­ing Covid-19 outbreaks, in addi­tion to vaccin­a­tion distri­bu­tion data, for all incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als at the Baltimore Cent­ral Book­ing and Intake Center.
  • In May, the Mary­land DOC began offer­ing snack pack­ages and other food items as an incent­ive for incar­cer­ated people to sign up for the Covid-19 vaccine. These pack­ages—which include two dozen items such as rice, tuna, cook­ies, crack­ers and chips—will also be distrib­uted to those who already volun­teered and received the vaccine.
  • On Janu­ary 5, the Baltimore Sun published an analysis of True­Care24’s distri­bu­tion of spoiled Covid-19 vaccines to incar­cer­ated people in Mary­land. At least 28 percent of the contract­or’s doses were mishandled or contam­in­ated, and the state health depart­ment waited months to notify the hundreds of people affected–while also not termin­at­ing True­Care24’s contract.

Massachu­setts 

  • By June 4th, only ten people had been released from Massachu­setts correc­tional facil­it­ies in response to Covid-19 concerns, despite outbreaks at multiple facil­it­ies. The Massachu­setts Supreme Court declined to order imme­di­ate releases while simul­tan­eously acknow­ledging concern­ing condi­tions in Massachu­setts’ pris­ons, includ­ing a months-long lock­down, limited and incon­sist­ent sanit­iz­a­tion, and an inab­il­ity to socially distance.
  • After order­ing facil­ity-wide Covid-19 test­ing at MCI Norfolk, the Massachu­setts Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted on Novem­ber 6th that at least 140 people held at the jail had tested posit­ive. In response, the facil­ity tempor­ar­ily suspen­ded in-person visits.
  • On Novem­ber 14, outbreaks at multiple Massachu­setts correc­tional facil­it­ies promp­ted the state to order two weeks of Covid-19 test­ing for all incar­cer­ated people and staff members. All 16 state pris­ons entered modi­fied lock­down to conduct tests, suspend­ing in-person visit­a­tion but allow­ing attor­ney visits and releases to continue.
  • Facing a lawsuit and public pres­sure to release people into home confine­ment during the coronavirus pandemic, the Massachu­setts Depart­ment of Correc­tion began taking steps to imple­ment a lackluster home confine­ment program that would release on 20 to 25 incar­cer­ated people at a time. The program, set to launch in early 2021, follows the Depart­ment of Correc­tion’s decision to release two people on medical parole just hours before their deaths from Covid-19.
  • After two incar­cer­ated people died from coronavirus-related illnesses right after being gran­ted medical parole, the Depart­ment of Correc­tions decided to include the number of Covid-posit­ive people released on medical parole to the Special Master of the state Supreme Judi­cial Court. The change in the report­ing process follows an invest­ig­a­tion by WBUR that uncovered that the state had denied medical parole for the two indi­vidu­als until they were hospit­al­ized and likely to die from Coivd-19.
  • A Super­ior Court Judge in Suffolk County repor­ted on Decem­ber 8 that he will review an emer­gency motion to allow the home release of some Massachu­setts pris­on­ers due to the coronavirus pandemic. Pris­on­ers Legal Services of Massachu­setts presen­ted the motion alleging that the state must do more to protect incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als from Covid-19 outbreaks within carceral facil­it­ies.
  • Gov. Charlie Baker announced that correc­tions staff and incar­cer­ated people are among the first people who will be vaccin­ated under Massachu­setts’ vaccine distri­bu­tion plan, placing both groups in the Phase 1 category. This phase of vaccin­a­tion also includes health care work­ers, police, fire and emer­gency respon­ders, people resid­ing in long term care facil­it­ies, and those living and work­ing in home­less shel­ters.
  • Middle­sex County Sher­iff Peter Koutoujian surveyed incar­cer­ated people in his juris­dic­tion about their will­ing­ness to be vaccin­ated against Covid-19. By Janu­ary 12, only 40 percent of the 406 respond­ents said they would “take an approved Covid-19 vaccine right now” if it were offered to them, free of charge.
  • Vaccin­a­tions in Massachu­setts pris­ons began on Janu­ary 20, as Gov. Charlie Baker announced that all will­ing volun­teers of the “about 6,500 inmates and 4,500 staff” at DOC facil­it­ies would be inocu­lated by the second week of Febru­ary. Staff members began receiv­ing vaccin­a­tions on Janu­ary 7, but incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als were not offered vaccine doses until two weeks later.
  • On Janu­ary 28, Massachu­setts Commis­sioner of the Depart­ment of Correc­tions, Carol Mici, announced that Massachu­setts has been offer­ing the COVID-19 vaccine to incar­cer­ated people as part of the first phase of their vaccine distri­bu­tion plan, and so far over 3,500 people in the state’s DOC have received it. Addi­tion­ally, incar­cer­ated people in Massachu­setts will receive 7.5 days of Earned Good Time after receiv­ing both doses of the vaccine and complet­ing educa­tional mater­i­als on it. 
  • On Febru­ary 3, Massachu­setts rescin­ded its prom­ise to offer “good time” cred­its to incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als who took both doses of the vaccine and read/watched educa­tional mater­i­als about it. The decision came from Gov. Charlie Baker, who deemed the cred­its "not consist­ent with the Admin­is­tra­tion’s policies regard­ing reduced prison terms."
  • On Febru­ary 8, the state of Massachu­setts repor­ted that over half of the state’s DOC staff have refused the Covid-19 vaccine. Offi­cials worry that Covid-19 will continue to plague pris­ons, as the virus is brought into the insti­tu­tions through staff. 
  • On March 22, Massachu­setts attor­ney general, Maura Healey stated that she thinks all state correc­tional officers and police should be required to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. More than half of the state’s DOC staff have refused the vaccine.
  • On March 24, Gov. Baker pushed back against Massachu­setts Demo­crats’ call to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for the state’s correc­tional officers and police. The governor encour­aged the state to start by vaccin­at­ing as many people who want to receive the vaccine.
  • On April 30, the Massachu­setts Trial Court began using a ball­room as a space to hold socially distanced trials. The court has a back­log of approx­im­ately 3,700 cases due to the pandemic.
  • On Septem­ber 14th, the Massachu­setts Supreme Judi­cial Court heard oral argu­ments from pris­on­er’s rights advoc­ates concern­ing the over­crowding prison popu­la­tion in the state. Accord­ing to the brief submit­ted by Pris­on­ers’ Legal Services, about half of all incar­cer­ated people in these facil­it­ies are double or triple bunked – sleep­ing so close to one another that they can touch each other’s beds. Addi­tion­ally, five pris­ons in the state are oper­at­ing above capa­city. The argu­ment stated that the Depart­ment of Correc­tions has not util­ized all the possible tools to mitig­ate the spread of the virus in pris­ons such as home confine­ment, furlough­ing some incar­cer­ated people, and expand­ing use of “good time” or other sentence-reduc­tion programs to reduce the popu­la­tion in these facil­it­ies.
  • On Octo­ber 26, MDOC Commis­sioner Carol Mici announced in a memo that visit­ors, volun­teers, and attor­neys at state pris­ons must undergo rapid Covid-19 test­ing in order to enter facil­it­ies, start­ing Octo­ber 27.
  • On Novem­ber 15, Essex County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment repor­ted an outbreak at the Middleton House of Correc­tions, with active Covid-19 cases reach­ing about 100.

Michigan

  • On March 29, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer signed an exec­ut­ive order call­ing for the release of the follow­ing people from county jails, pris­ons, and juven­ile deten­tion centers: elderly and/or chron­ic­ally ill indi­vidu­als, people who are preg­nant, people who are near­ing their release date, people who were incar­cer­ated for a traffic viol­a­tion or fail­ure to appear or pay, and anyone with beha­vi­oral health prob­lems who could safely be diver­ted for treat­ment. 
  • On May 21, Judge Linda Parker ruled that medic­ally vulner­able people must be released from the Oakland County jail. The order required the jail, within three busi­ness days, to provide to the court a list of all medic­ally vulner­able incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als, their health vulner­ab­il­it­ies and their crim­inal histor­ies. 
  • On August 15, Gov. Whit­mer signed an exec­ut­ive order that requires jails and pris­ons to test indi­vidu­als for Covid-19 upon enter­ing, trans­fer­ring to/from, or being released out of the state’s facil­it­ies.
  • On Octo­ber 14, Michigan Depart­ment of Correc­tions spokes­man Chris Gautz repor­ted that roughly 120 of the 300 staff members at Marquette’s Branch Prison were not eligible to work because they had either been diagnosed with Covid-19, had symp­toms and were await­ing test results, or had come into close contact with another staff member who tested posit­ive. 
  • By Decem­ber 2, 40 percent of people incar­cer­ated in Michigan pris­ons had tested posit­ive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. The state has contin­ued to provide little protec­tion for incar­cer­ated people and prison staff, whose expos­ure risks continue to climb during the winter months.
  • Michigan’s state health depart­ment began review­ing cases of possible Covid-19 rein­fec­tion on Decem­ber 12, after more than 100 people tested posit­ive for a second time while incar­cer­ated.
  • On Decem­ber 30, Michigan began vaccin­at­ing health care staff at its pris­ons and jails against Covid-19, prior­it­iz­ing those who provide direct care to elderly people in long-term care settings. The entirety of prison employ­ees will be eligible in the second phase of vaccin­a­tion, which includes all essen­tial work­ers in the state. However, incar­cer­ated people will not them­selves be eligible for vaccin­a­tion in Michigan until the statewide, general popu­la­tion rollout at some point in 2021.
  • On Janu­ary 12, the state prison in Saginaw entered "outbreak status" when 774 indi­vidu­als (more than half the facil­ity’s popu­la­tion) tested posit­ive for Covid-19 at the same time. Addi­tion­ally, the facil­ity repor­ted more than 300 addi­tional people in the “step-down” phase, mean­ing they had been medic­ally cleared as no longer conta­gious but still carried the virus.
  • On Febru­ary 10, the Michigan DOC issued a notice to staff and people incar­cer­ated in the state that a staff member at Bellamy Creek Correc­tional Facil­ity in Ionia had tested posit­ive for the B.1.1.7 vari­ant of Covid-19. This vari­ant is more conta­gious than previ­ous strains of the virus.
  • On Febru­ary 26, the Wayne County Sher­iff’s Office announced that it would be the first correc­tional facil­ity in the U.S. to install air puri­fi­ers that are inten­ded to “kill COVID-19 particles,” util­iz­ing filters that recently gained an emer­gency use author­iz­a­tion from the FDA. In general, Michigan jails have contin­ued to deny access to test­ing, appro­pri­ate distan­cing meas­ures, or PPE to the people held there.
  • In the Kala­ma­zoo Circuit Court, jury trials will resume on April 12. Because no trials have been held in over a year, the back­log of people facing charges that could result in a life sentence is nearly three times the typical pre-pandemic amount.
  • On March 12, the Michigan Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that it will resume in-person visits after paus­ing them in March 2020. The DOC is putting Covid-related precau­tions into place, includ­ing rapid coronavirus tests for incar­cer­ated people and their visit­ors, plexi­glass barri­ers, shortened visits, and no phys­ical contact.
  • On Septem­ber 8th, Muske­gon County Sher­iff stated that “our jails were not designed for this” as local offi­cials struggle to control Covid-19 outbreaks while state-level have managed a drop in Covid-19 cases.
  • In an attempt to remedy the effect of the state’s 1998 Truth in Senten­cing Act, which requires those incar­cer­ated to serve minimum sentences before being considered for parole, Michigan House and Senate lawmakers intro­duced multiple bills this fall to allow sentence reduc­tions of up to 20 percent for “good beha­vior” and parti­cip­a­tion in rehab­il­it­a­tion programs.

Minnesota

  • In April, Minnesota announced a plan to rely upon Condi­tional Medical Releases (CMRs) to reduce its prison popu­la­tion in response to Covid-19. Of the 2,300 applic­a­tions received, the CMR board had only released 143 people by Septem­ber 3. An addi­tional 586 incar­cer­ated people were deemed “at great risk,” but not released.
  • By Septem­ber 24, roughly half of the 600 people incar­cer­ated at the women’s prison in Waseca had contrac­ted Covid-19, most within a two-week span. By Septem­ber 30, the BOP repor­ted that 70 percent of the women had tested posit­ive.
  • On Saturday, Octo­ber 10, Still­wa­ter prison began a new lock­down period after discov­er­ing 90 posit­ive cases of Covid-19 among the 1,273 people incar­cer­ated there.
  • On Octo­ber 22, the ACLU of Minnesota filed a class action lawsuit alleging that the Minnesota Depart­ment of Correc­tions and Commis­sioner Paul Schnell did not adequately protect incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als from Covid-19 by fail­ing to imple­ment appro­pri­ate proto­cols to stop or slow virus trans­mis­sion and deny­ing medical release to high-risk indi­vidu­als.
  • On Novem­ber 13, the state prison in St. Cloud insti­tuted a full lock­down after 53.7 percent of incar­cer­ated people within the facil­ity tested posit­ive for Covid-19. Cases were found in every single unit of the prison, as well as among 59 staff members. The facil­ity expressed that it would remain on lock­down until the outbreak receded.
  • As of Nov. 27, at least 941 incar­cer­ated people at the Still­wa­ter Correc­tional Facil­ity have been diagnosed with Covid-19, a stag­ger­ing 75 percent of the pris­on’s total popu­la­tion. At least one person has died. The prison had been under medical lock­down since Oct. 12, but this lock­down does not appear to have stemmed the outbreak within its walls.
  • In Decem­ber, the ACLU of Minnesota filed a suit against the federal women’s prison in Waseca, alleging that the prison failed to take meas­ures that would prevent an outbreak of Covid-19, such as releas­ing people with medical condi­tions to home confine­ment and redu­cing the pris­on’s popu­la­tion to allow social distan­cing. At the time of filing, about 70 percent of the pris­on’s incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion had tested posit­ive for the coronavirus since March.
  • On March 19, a statewide survey in Minnesota showed that 50% of the states correc­tions officers do not want to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. The DOC commis­sioner, Paul Schnell, expressed that his depart­ment may have to imple­ment differ­ent PPE require­ments for unvac­cin­ated staff or have them work in separ­ate areas. 
  • On April 4, a report from the Minnesota Depart­ment of Correc­tions and crim­inal justice experts showed that the state exper­i­enced dispro­por­tion­ately high rates of Covid-19 in pris­ons due to lack of vent­il­a­tion and cramped condi­tions that did not allow for social distan­cing. Some incar­cer­ated people repor­ted that pris­ons put them in cells with coronavirus patients, and the state denied others with health condi­tions medical release.
  • On Novem­ber 4, the Minnesota DOC announced that employ­ees of state pris­ons must show proof of vaccin­a­tion or submit to weekly test­ing.
  • On Novem­ber 11, Calvin Miller, program director at Minnesota Correc­tional Facil­ity-St. Cloud, repor­ted 87 active cases of Covid-19.This outbreak repres­ents 95 percent of the state’s current cases. The facil­ity has suspen­ded visit­a­tion and new admis­sions.
  • On Decem­ber 8, the Waseca County Prison repor­ted 133 cases of Covid-19, an increase of seven since Decem­ber 7th. The prison remains at a "modi­fied oper­a­tions status,” which requires facil­ity-wide mask usage, social distan­cing in all areas, and consist­ent screen­ing for symp­toms.

Missis­sippi

  • Follow­ing a late-June outbreak at a correc­tional facil­ity in Pearl, Missis­sippi, there have been 132 confirmed cases in Missis­sippi DOC facil­it­ies. Less than 2% of the 17,400 people in Missis­sippi state custody have been tested, as the MDOC has stated that only people with a fever and upper respir­at­ory symp­toms qual­ify for test­ing.
  • By Septem­ber 28, only 1,087 incar­cer­ated people had been tested for Covid-19 in Missis­sippi pris­ons, 601 of whom have received posit­ive test results. 
  • As of Novem­ber 30, the Missis­sippi Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted 902 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among the incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion and only 1,380 incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als who have tested negat­ive. Family members and advoc­ates continue to report a lack of social distan­cing proced­ures or other protec­tion­ary meas­ures, despite facil­ity lock­downs purportedly inten­ded to insu­late the incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion from virus spread.
  • On April 1, activ­ists in Missis­sip­pi’s prison system repor­ted that the state’s Depart­ment of Correc­tions is threat­en­ing consequences for those who do not take the Covid-19 vaccine, such as relin­quish­ing visit­a­tion rights, access to work programs, and consid­er­a­tion for move­ment to differ­ent facil­it­ies. The DOC is also not provid­ing adequate inform­a­tion about the vaccine to incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als to be able to make an informed decision.
  • As of April 7, Missis­sippi pris­ons have been offer­ing incar­cer­ated people a bag of “Famous Amos cook­ies” as an incent­ive for receiv­ing the Covid-19 vaccine, and Geor­gia pris­ons have been offer­ing a “warden’s pack” which includes items such as cook­ies, chips, and candy for being vaccin­ated. These incent­ives are an attempt to increase vaccin­a­tion rates in pris­ons where low numbers of incar­cer­ated people have accep­ted the vaccine, in part due to lack of trust of prison staff.
  • On May 10, the Missis­sippi DOC began “tempor­ary in-person visit­a­tion.” Under the visit­a­tion policy, incar­cer­ated folks are allowed one visit­a­tion per month, a max of two visit­ors per session, and chil­dren under the age of 18 are not allowed to visit the MDOC.
  • On July 26, the MDOC suspen­ded in-person visit­a­tion due to the rising Covid-19 cases until further notice. The program had just been rein­stated in May 2021 after fifteen months without in-person visits.
  • On Septem­ber 13th, The Missis­sippi Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted that 89 percent of incar­cer­ated people in state-oper­ated prison are fully vaccin­ated.

Missouri 

  • By August 1, roughly 20 percent of the women incar­cer­ated at Chil­li­cothe Correc­tional Center in Missouri had tested posit­ive for Covid-19, after Gov. Mike Parson refused to imple­ment any coronavirus-related changes to prison oper­a­tions except using federal fund­ing for test­ing.
  • On Septem­ber 11, incar­cer­ated people and activ­ists repor­ted that “clean­ing supplies have been ‘watered down’ at the Bonne Terre facil­ity” in the Missouri East­ern Recep­tion, Diagnostic and Correc­tional Center, and that there “aren’t visible signs encour­aging social distan­cing or hand-wash­ing.”
  • On April 4, people held at the City Justice Center in St. Louis parti­cip­ated in another upris­ing to protest the inhu­mane condi­tions in which they are being held and the inde­term­in­ate delays on many cases spurred by the pandemic. A recent report by the Correc­tions Task Force called for an inde­pend­ent over­sight board that could force changes to the jail’s oper­a­tions, such as address­ing the lack of Covid-19 precau­tions alleged by people behind bars and the extreme lengths of time they are being held await­ing trial.
  • On April 4, 60 incar­cer­ated people in the St. Louis City Justice Center jail staged an upris­ing from their cells in protest of long wait times for trials and the high risk of Covid-19 expos­ure in the insti­tu­tion. This is the second protest at this jail in 2021. 
  • As of May 4, 47% of people incar­cer­ated in Missouri state pris­ons had been vaccin­ated for Covid-19. The state’s prison system currently has 23 active coronavirus cases.
  • On Octo­ber 25, a study analyz­ing Covid-19 rates in Missouri pris­ons found that among the state’s 22 pris­ons, the four facil­it­ies that intake people directly from county jails have signi­fic­antly higher Covid-19 rates than the rest. The study high­lights the need for uniform stand­ards and the enforce­ment of protect­ive policies in pris­ons by show­cas­ing the rapid spread of the delta vari­ant.
  • During the first week of Janu­ary, Gov. Mike Parson announced that he would not extend Missour­i’s state of emer­gency in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, citing the state’s flex­ib­il­ity of response. Just days later, Missour­i’s pris­ons, juven­ile facil­it­ies, and mental health treat­ment centers all repor­ted surges in Covid-19 cases, likely due to the omic­ron vari­ant’s rapid spread through­out the state.

Montana 

  • On Septem­ber 28, private prison oper­ator Core­Civic announced that over two dozen people incar­cer­ated at the Cross­roads Correc­tional Facil­ity in Shelby, Montana tested posit­ive for Covid-19 in the span of two days. The facil­ity does not plan to test all those incar­cer­ated there, and has not released the number of people who will be tested.
  • On Octo­ber 27, the Montana Army National Guard was dispatched to respond to the Covid-19 outbreak at the Deer Lodge state prison. 67 volun­teer soldiers were sent to assist in distrib­ut­ing mail, meals, and laun­dry for at least two weeks, or as long as the outbreak contin­ues. At the time of dispatch, the prison was strug­gling with 203 active cases among incar­cer­ated people and at least 75 involving staff.
  • On Febru­ary 9, the Montana Depart­ment of Correc­tions vaccin­ated 110 indi­vidu­als incar­cer­ated in the state’s prison system as part of Phase 1B of Montana’s vaccine distri­bu­tion plan. Those who received the vaccine included people at risk for complic­a­tions from Covid-19, such as incar­cer­ated people over 70. Incar­cer­ated people who have not been deemed “high risk” will be eligible to receive the vaccine in Phase 1C.
  • On April 9, the Montana correc­tions director, Brian Gootkin, announced that the state will begin allow­ing in-person visit­ors in its correc­tional insti­tu­tions start­ing April 24. The facil­it­ies have been closed to visit­ors for over a year due to the pandemic.

Nebraska 

  • On Septem­ber 24, the Nebraska State Penit­en­tiary entered a modi­fied lock­down period, limit­ing internal move­ment due to staff absences because of Covid-19 cases. Over 100 incar­cer­ated people have also tested posit­ive inside the facil­ity.
  • On Novem­ber 24, Nebraska offi­cials repor­ted nearly 300 active cases of Covid-19 within the state’s pris­ons. The announce­ment included 112 cases at the Omaha Correc­tions Center, 71 at the Lincoln Correc­tions Center and 98 at the prison in Tecum­seh. Around 60 staff members also tested posit­ive in the ten days prior to the announce­ment, and the Depart­ment of Correc­tions began invest­ig­at­ing six deaths among incar­cer­ated people that are likely related to the outbreak.
  • On May 26, the Nebraska DOC announced visit­a­tion had returned to normal oper­a­tions and wear­ing masks would be volun­tary.
  • As cases rise around the state, Nebraska prison offi­cial began provid­ing soap and face masks upon request. On August 18, 33 people incar­cer­ated at the Diagnostic and Eval­u­ation Center in Lincoln tested posit­ive for Covid-19, a risk ampli­fied by the facil­ity’s aver­age daily popu­la­tion over the last year repres­ent­ing over 200 percent of its oper­a­tional capa­city.
  • On Octo­ber 10, Governor Pete Rick­ett’s office refused to release prison reform reports that were inten­ded to address and explain the state’s prison over­crowding. The refusal came a day before the Nebraska Depart­ment of Correc­tional Services Director Scott Frakes appeared before a state judi­ciary commit­tee to testify about prison over­crowding.
  • On Octo­ber 11, a report from the Nebraska Judi­cial System revealed that people are spend­ing ever-more time in state prison facil­it­ies and because of this, over­crowding has worsened. The report states that between 2011 and 2021, Nebraska’s incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion increased 21 percent, even though the state’s prison admis­sion numbers dropped during the ten-year period.

Nevada 

  • On April 27, Nevada’s Senten­cing Commis­sion rejec­ted three separ­ate propos­als to even consider redu­cing the state’s incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion, with one of its judges proclaim­ing that “we’re the ones who put those people in prison and I’m not inter­ested in letting them out”.
  • In Decem­ber, numer­ous correc­tions offi­cials repor­ted to the state Senten­cing Commis­sion that they would “rather quit than be forced to take” the coronavirus vaccine. At the same time, depart­ment offi­cials repor­ted that they are draft­ing legis­la­tion to force incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als to be vaccin­ated.
  • On Febru­ary 26, the Nevada DOC announced that it had been incor­rectly report­ing Covid-19 cases in its facil­it­ies, supposedly due to data entry errors. A review of the state’s records showed that the errors incor­rectly lowered the cumu­lat­ive case counts among incar­cer­ated people and staff to drop by 268 since the week before.
  • On April 22, the Nevada Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that the depart­ment will begin allow­ing in person visit­ors at state pris­ons begin­ning May 1. Visit­a­tion has been suspen­ded at the state’s pris­ons since March of 2020 due to the pandemic.
  • On June 24, the Nevada DOC announced fully vaccin­ated incar­cer­ated folks and staff will no longer be required to wear masks. Addi­tion­ally, fully vaccin­ated incar­cer­ated people will be allowed three visit­ors, rather than two, and visits will be increased to every two weeks.
  • On Septem­ber 10th, Nevada offi­cials voted to require state employ­ees who work at health care facil­it­ies and pris­ons to get vaccin­ated against Covid-19. The require­ments come into effect Novem­ber 1 for prison and health care facil­ity employ­ees who don’t qual­ify for reli­gious or medical exemp­tions. Those who choose not to get vaccin­ated will face admin­is­trat­ive leave or reas­sign­ment.

New Hamp­shire 

  • By Wednes­day, May 27, 2020, only 17 of the 2,360 people incar­cer­ated by the New Hamp­shire Depart­ment of Correc­tions had received tests for Covid-19, despite continu­ing inter­state trans­fers and intakes of newly incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als.
  • As of April 17, New Hamp­shire jails had begun distrib­ut­ing Covid-19 vaccines to people incar­cer­ated in the state’s ten jails. The state’s prison system has been vaccin­at­ing incar­cer­ated people since Febru­ary.
  • On April 30, New Hamp­shire advoc­ates repor­ted that the state’s jail inspec­tion policies are insuf­fi­cient. The state has county commis­sion­ers monitor the work­ings of county jails, and these indi­vidu­als are not trained in issues related to incar­cer­a­tion. The policy led the Valley Street Jail in Manchester to pass inspec­tion in Decem­ber and suffer a Covid-19 outbreak soon after.
  • On Octo­ber 21, the Valley Street jail in Manchester, New Hamp­shire, repor­ted that a Covid-19 outbreak has led to infec­tions among at least 120 incar­cer­ated people and six staff members.

New Jersey

  • On April 10, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced plans to sign an exec­ut­ive order to allow some “low risk” indi­vidu­als to be moved to home confine­ment for the dura­tion of the Covid-19 pandemic. To be eligible for release, an indi­vidual must be in an at-risk category, either because of age or health status. People whose sentences are about to expire in the next three months or who have been denied parole within the last year may also be eligible for release.
  • As of July 30, New Jersey lawmakers are expec­ted to approve a bill that could free more than 3,000 people incar­cer­ated in state pris­ons – nearly 20% of their total prison popu­la­tion. These wide­spread releases would be accom­plished by allow­ing the release of people incar­cer­ated for certain viol­ent offenses, as well.
  • On Septem­ber 13, the New Jersey legis­lature announced more plans to grant early releases to thou­sands of incar­cer­ated people in its ongo­ing response to Covid-19. These releases would help justify a proposed $60 million cut to the New Jersey Depart­ment of Correc­tions budget.
  • On Octo­ber 19, Gov. Phil Murphy signed S2519, redu­cing the sentences of thou­sands of people incar­cer­ated in New Jersey state pris­ons. The law takes time off a person’s sentence for every month spent behind bars during a public health emer­gency, first going into effect on Novem­ber 4, 2020. The first round of early releases includes over 2,000 incar­cer­ated people who have exper­i­enced the pandemic in the New Jersey correc­tional system, and releases will continue on a rolling basis as long as the public health emer­gency persists.
  • On Novem­ber 4, New Jersey released 2,258 incar­cer­ated people as part of one of the largest-ever single-day reduc­tions of any state’s prison popu­la­tion. Under S2519, at least 1,000 addi­tional people are expec­ted to be released by March — a 35 percent total reduc­tion in New Jersey’s prison popu­la­tion.
  • On Novem­ber 9, a group of New Jersey state Congress members called for a pause in trans­fers to Fort Dix Correc­tional Insti­tu­tion, which at the time held the record for the second most ongo­ing cases of Covid-19 out of any federal prison. The lawmakers expressed “grave concerns” over how prison offi­cials are managing the ongo­ing coronavirus crisis.
  • Pris­on­ers and their family members of those incar­cer­ated at Fort Dix have contin­ued to raise alarm about the lack of medical treat­ment in the facil­ity, describ­ing people banging on their doors for hours in order to get medical atten­tion, being only given Tylenol for their symp­toms, and rarely being allowed access to a doctor or a nurse. 
  • Only three weeks after its last major outbreak, Fort Dix repor­ted on Janu­ary 5 that roughly 600 incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als at the facil­ity have tested posit­ive for Covid-19, again rais­ing concerns about those trapped within the prison walls who have had to endure multiple lock­downs and extens­ive virus spread.
  • The Fort Dix federal prison began receiv­ing coronavirus vaccines for distri­bu­tion to incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als on Janu­ary 19, at a time when at least 460 people were actively exper­i­en­cing Covid-19 infec­tions.
  • On Febru­ary 1, the warden of Fort Dix federal prison was reas­signed to an admin­is­trat­ive post in Phil­adelphia, signal­ing the BOP’s acknow­ledge­ment of his fail­ure to contain (or curtail in any way) the massive coronavirus outbreak within the facil­ity. Accord­ing to offi­cial BOP case data, roughly 1,500 incar­cer­ated people in Fort Dix have tested posit­ive for Covid-19.
  • On Febru­ary 11, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejec­ted a case propos­ing to release approx­im­ately 650 people from jail after six months of await­ing trial. However, the Court conceded that lower courts should still consider releas­ing some people from jail after six months, espe­cially if their health puts them at a greater risk for complic­a­tions related to Covid-19. 
  • Despite the state tech­nic­ally allow­ing incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als to receive Covid-19 vaccin­a­tions, county jails in New Jersey have repor­ted diffi­culty access­ing the state’s vaccine supply, leav­ing them unable to move forward with their full inocu­la­tion plans or meet demand inside the jails. 
  • On May 1, New Jersey state pris­ons will begin allow­ing in person visit­ors for the first time since the pandemic star­ted in the spring of 2020. Visit­ors will reserve slots and all visits will occur outdoors and socially distant.

New Mexico

  • On April 6, New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham signed an exec­ut­ive order releas­ing some people from prison in response to Covid-19. Only indi­vidu­als who were sched­uled to be released in the next 30 days are eligible, though the Governor’s office noted that the list of eligible indi­vidu­als will be reas­sessed every day. 

New York

  • On March 31, New York announced plans to release 1,100 people incar­cer­ated across the state who were imprisoned because of parole viol­a­tions. This number does not include people with prior convic­tions for viol­ent offenses or people who could not provide evid­ence of adequate hous­ing upon release. Michael Tyson, the first person to die from Covid-19 in the NYC jail system, was incar­cer­ated on a tech­nical parole viol­a­tion, but had not been recom­men­ded for release under the Governor’s guidelines because of a prior viol­ent crime convic­tion. For up-to-date data on the number of Covid-19 cases in the New York State prison system, see here
  • By Octo­ber 7, less than half of those incar­cer­ated within the New York State prison system have been tested since the begin­ning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Advoc­ates test­i­fied that the state is slow­ing down the number of tests per week, despite rising concerns over access to coronavirus test­ing and flu vaccin­a­tions.
  • By Octo­ber 21, multiple New York state pris­ons began report­ing new Covid-19 outbreaks within their facil­it­ies, with 278 incar­cer­ated people at the Elmira Correc­tional Facil­ity receiv­ing posit­ive test results within a two-week span (when report­ing the outbreak, the facil­ity was still await­ing the results of another 475 tests). On the same day, county offi­cials announced that at the Greene Correc­tional Facil­ity, 80 incar­cer­ated people and 26 employ­ees had tested posit­ive - up from two posit­ive cases as of Oct 1.
  • By Octo­ber 27, almost 40 percent of incar­cer­ated people at the Elmira state prison had tested posit­ive for Covid-19, continu­ing an outbreak that promp­ted a full facil­ity lock­down on Octo­ber 21.
  • Accord­ing to an Inspector General report released on Novem­ber 10, the Metro­pol­itan Deten­tion Center in Brook­lyn has been wait­ing two months to sched­ule sick call requests for people held there, despite grow­ing concerns of Covid-19 spread and ongo­ing unre­lated health issues. The same report cred­ited a lack of access­ible test­ing as mask­ing the true extent of Covid-19 outbreaks at the facil­ity.
  • Accord­ing to data released by the state, only five people were gran­ted medical parole and let out between March 16 and Novem­ber 10 by the New York State Parole Board, despite the multi­tude of incar­cer­ated people with pre-exist­ing medical condi­tions that make them more suscept­ible to Covid-19.
  • On Decem­ber 8, the Monroe County jail began univer­sal coronavirus test­ing, after nearly 200 people at the jail were placed in quar­ant­ine for possible Covid-19 expos­ure. Almost imme­di­ately, over 70 people tested posit­ive for Covid-19.
  • On Decem­ber 16, the Onond­aga County jail announced that 22 incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als, four staff members, and one food vendor all tested posit­ive for the coronavirus in two days, prompt­ing the facil­ity to restrict all activ­ity and bring meals to people in their cells.
  • Between Decem­ber 12 and Janu­ary 5, the state’s 52 correc­tional facil­it­ies repor­ted at least nine deaths and over 1,000 active infec­tions among incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als, exem­pli­fy­ing New York’s inab­il­ity to keep incar­cer­ated people safe from infec­tion.
  • On Janu­ary 6, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that some New York City jail staff are now eligible to be vaccin­ated, in addi­tion to the medical employ­ees who were already eligible. However, only the highest-risk patients inside the jail will be vaccin­ated in this phase.
  • In the first weeks of 2021, posit­ive cases in the New York state prison system skyrock­eted, with almost 2,000 people test­ing posit­ive from Decem­ber 1 through Janu­ary 12. The state did not announce any plans to vaccin­ate incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als in response to this surge.
  • On Janu­ary 28, the New York State attor­ney’s office released a report indic­at­ing that the state’s health depart­ment may have under­coun­ted the Covid-19 death toll in state nurs­ing home resid­ents by as much as 50%. The invest­ig­a­tion is ongo­ing.
  • On Janu­ary 28, author­it­ies began admin­is­ter­ing Covid-19 vaccin­a­tions to jail staff and some incar­cer­ated people in New York City’s federal jails. The staff were given first access to the vaccines, though some have declined protec­tion. In city-run jails, roughly 200 incar­cer­ated people had been vaccin­ated by the end of Janu­ary, prior­it­iz­ing the most elderly and vulner­able. Those held in state pris­ons, however, are not yet eligible for vaccin­a­tions.
  • While the state resists calls to offer vaccin­a­tions to incar­cer­ated people, Covid-19 cases in the New York state prison system contin­ued to spiral out of control, with nearly 150 actives cases being repor­ted at the Frank­lin Correc­tional facil­ity on Febru­ary 3 alone.
  • In response to these state fail­ures, two men being held on Rikers Island filed a lawsuit on Febru­ary 4, arguing that the state’s rules “allow­ing immun­iz­a­tions for resid­ents of other congreg­ate settings— nurs­ing homes, shel­ters and long-term care facil­it­ies—while exclud­ing incar­cer­ated people is 'arbit­rary and capri­cious’.”
  • On Febru­ary 5, Gov. Cuomo announced that people held in New York City jails who are over the age of 65 or “medic­ally frail” can begin receiv­ing the Covid-19 vaccine. This announce­ment came as a result of the above lawsuit filed on behalf of incar­cer­ated people at Rikers, who claimed that exclu­sion from vaccin­a­tion is a viol­a­tion of their rights under the 14th amend­ment’s equal protec­tion clause.
  • On Febru­ary 18, advocacy groups and state lawmakers called on the New York DOC to reform Covid-related responses. The advoc­ates were partic­u­larly concerned about pris­ons send­ing Covid-posit­ive people who needed to quar­ant­ine to solit­ary confine­ment in the Specialty Hous­ing Units.
  • On March 8, a report from the Board of Correc­tions revealed that condi­tions in New York City jails have not improved in the year since the pandemic began. The report showed that the jails do not have compre­hens­ive distan­cing meas­ures and mask mandates in place, despite research over the past year about how the virus spreads.
  • As of March 10, there were over 5,500 people being held in New York City jails, a higher popu­la­tion than before the pandemic star­ted. Doctors are concerned that the increase in the number of people coupled with unsan­it­ary condi­tions and a lack of social distan­cing and mask­ing in jails could lead to another major outbreak in the jails. 
  • On March 30, a New York judge ordered Gov. Cuomo to offer Covid-19 vaccines to people incar­cer­ated in the state, assert­ing that the denial of vaccines was “by defin­i­tion arbit­rary and capri­cious.” The decision comes after incar­cer­ated people sued Gov. Cuomo and the New York Commis­sioner of Health, Howard Zucker, nearly two months ago request­ing access to the vaccine.
  • On April 20, about one in five women incar­cer­ated at Bedford Hills Correc­tional Facil­ity, a New York prison for women that holds preg­nant women and has a nurs­ery program for newborns, tested posit­ive for Covid-19 during the insti­tu­tion’s most recent outbreak. The states Depart­ment of Correc­tions and Community Super­vi­sion repor­ted that babies who test posit­ive remain with their moth­ers during quar­ant­ine.
  • On May 11, the federal monitor tasked with invest­ig­at­ing New York City jails repor­ted that the lack of reforms in the NYC jail system is “frus­trat­ing and disap­point­ing,” with an “alarm­ing” and “pervas­ive” level of “disorder and chaos” defin­ing the exper­i­ence of people held at Rikers Island jail facil­it­ies.
  • On June 25, NYC jails resumed in-person visits. Visit­ors must prac­tice social distan­cing, wear masks, undergo temper­at­ure checks, and complete a self-screen­ing for Covid-19. 
  • In Septem­ber, the NY State Depart­ment of Correc­tions and Community Super­vi­sion will restart its Family Reunion Program after a nearly 18-month suspen­sion due to the pandemic. The program allows incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als and their famil­ies to have exten­ded visits in a “private home-like setting.”
  • As of late July, New York state pris­ons are offer­ing incent­ives like barbe­cues, $75 care pack­ages, and conjugal visits to increase vaccines. By July 29, all 32,000 people incar­cer­ated in New York State pris­ons have been offered the Covid-19 vaccine, but only 46% have actu­ally been vaccin­ated. 
  • On Septem­ber 10th, Ross MacDon­ald, the Chief Medical Officer of the New York City jail system, sent a letter to City Coun­cil­man Keith Powers urging for outside help to help the “disorder and chaos” in the New York City Jails. MacDon­ald states that the "collapse in basic jail oper­a­tions’ has led to an increase in jail-attrib­ut­able deaths. The letter states that the spread of COVID-19 in these facil­it­ies outpaces the spread in the city and that the situ­ation has been grossly misman­aged.
  • On Octo­ber 22, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a pack­age of crim­inal justice reform legis­la­tion to provide more rights to the formerly incar­cer­ated—in­clud­ing easing access to “Good Beha­vior” certi­fic­ates and empower­ing bona fide work to not viol­ate parole.
  • On Novem­ber 1, the Gene­see County Jail announced that all in-person visit­a­tion will be suspen­ded until Novem­ber 22 due to an influx in Covid-19 cases inside the facil­ity.
  • On Novem­ber 29, it was repor­ted that 23% of New York DOC employ­ees have not yet received their first Covid-19 vaccin­a­tion shot, and 30% of those unvac­cin­ated staff have not been submit­ting weekly Covid-19 tests as required by the state’s vaccine and test­ing mandate.

North Caro­lina

  • As of July 15, North Caro­lin­a’s Depart­ment of Public Safety began a 90 day contract with a Qual­ity Inn & Suites in Durham, enabling them to quar­ant­ine people who have completed their sentences and are being released.
  • After six weeks and 3.3 million dollars of test­ing, North Caro­lina offi­cials announced that 2.1 percent of the state’s incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion tested posit­ive for Covid-19.
  • Between Decem­ber 3 and Decem­ber 7, four incar­cer­ated men in North Caro­lina died of the coronavirus. They bring the death toll of indi­vidu­als incar­cer­ated by the state of North Caro­lina to 28, a number that has doubled since the end of Septem­ber. Accord­ing to the state’s public data­base, 6,059 people in the state prison system have tested posit­ive for the virus since the begin­ning of the pandemic, repres­ent­ing one in six people held in state prison facil­it­ies.
  • The first 1,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines for incar­cer­ated people and prison staff in North Caro­lina arrived on Janu­ary 20th. The initial doses will be offered to staff and “hous­ing units where offend­ers have tested posit­ive for the virus and inmates 75 years or older,” before moving onto incar­cer­ated people between 65 and 74 years of age. The state has considered incentiv­iz­ing vaccin­a­tion among incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als, and may offer rewards for volun­teer­ing once vaccin­a­tions are avail­able to the general prison popu­la­tion.
  • In an inspec­tion report released Janu­ary 28, the BOP found that Butner Correc­tional Complex mishandled its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with improper mask usage, risky and unne­ces­sary move­ment of incar­cer­ated people, and a botched imple­ment­a­tion of the attor­ney gener­al’s direct­ive to release at-risk indi­vidu­als.
  • On Febru­ary 9, a North Caro­lina Health News invest­ig­a­tion in part­ner­ship with VICE News repor­ted that North Caro­lina has been under report­ing the number of incar­cer­ated people who have died of Covid-19. The state failed to report all Covid-related deaths that occurred in pris­ons during the first seven months of the pandemic.
  • On Febru­ary 24, North Caro­lina settled a lawsuit with the NAACP, filed on behalf of incar­cer­ated people in the state, ensur­ing that its prison system will release at least 3,500 people over the next six months. The lawsuit was filed 11 months ago in response to the abysmal condi­tions faced by incar­cer­ated people during the pandemic, and repres­ents the largest decar­cer­a­tion effort to come from the court system since the onslaught of Covid-19.
  • As of April 15, North Caro­lina prison offi­cials repor­ted that while about 50% of the state’s prison popu­la­tion has been vaccin­ated for Covid-19, the number of people in prison, both incar­cer­ated people and staff, who want to be vaccin­ated is slow­ing down. Health offi­cials are concerned that low vaccin­a­tion levels may hinder whether pris­ons can reach herd immunity.
  • As of June 2, nearly 10,000 incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als had their sentences reduced by five days as a part of the state’s program to incentiv­ize Covid-19 vaccines. Other incent­ives offered include $5 credit at the prison canteen, four extra visits from loved ones, a free ten-minute phone call, and an earlier return to an assigned job.
  • On Octo­ber 20, the North Caro­lina Depart­ment of Public Safety imple­men­ted changes to how incar­cer­ated people receive mail. Mail such as hand­writ­ten cards, artwork, and photos will now only be avail­able to those in the form of a digital scan.

North Dakota

  • On July 15, North Dakota began imple­ment­ing anti­body test­ing for all correc­tional staff, with plans to roll out to incar­cer­ated people in the future. Each incar­cer­ated person has been tested at least once, with ongo­ing test­ing planned as long as the pandemic contin­ues. The depart­ment’s total correc­tions popu­la­tion went from a daily aver­age of 1,515 in March to 1,271 in June.
  • On Novem­ber 11, North Dakota’s Depart­ment of Correc­tions and Rehab­il­it­a­tion announced that it had resumed admis­sions to the State Penit­en­tiary in Bismarck, which had been tempor­ar­ily halted on Octo­ber 19th in response to increased spread of Covid-19.
  • On March 12, the North Dakota Depart­ment of Correc­tions and Rehab­il­it­a­tion announced that they will begin allow­ing in-person visit­ors at the state’s pris­ons on March 29 after a year of lock­down at the pris­ons. All guests will be required to have a negat­ive Covid-19 test within five days of the visit, wear an N-95 mask, and pass a temper­at­ure check screen­ing. 
  • As of Friday, May 21, about 72% of North Dakota’s prison popu­la­tion had been fully vaccin­ated against Covid-19, exceed­ing the vaccin­a­tion rate of the general popu­la­tion.
  • On Novem­ber 2, the North Dakota Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted a surge in coronavirus cases at the North Dakota State Penit­en­tiary, with a total of 82 people test­ing posit­ive.

Ohio

  • On April 7, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced that his office recom­men­ded that 141 incar­cer­ated people in minimum secur­ity pris­ons, who are within 90 days or less from release, be released by the end of the week. 
  • On April 22, a federal judge ordered offi­cials at the Elkton Federal Correc­tional Insti­tu­tion to identify their medic­ally-vulner­able pris­on­ers and trans­fer eligible incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als out of the facil­ity. The ruling came after a class action habeas peti­tion filed on April 16 by the ACLU of Ohio and the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, follow­ing an outbreak of Covid-19 inside the prison. As of April 22, 6 incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als had died at Elkton from Covid-19. 
  • Between March 10th and May 13th, the Cuyahoga County, Ohio jail has released about 900 people, redu­cing its popu­la­tion by more than 30%. This reduc­tion was largely a result of an increase in court orders and special hear­ings inten­ded to exped­ite the release of people from local jails.
  • Gov. DeWine has refused ongo­ing requests to ramp up Covid-related releases. These requests were made because of the 6,000 posit­ive tests as of July 20 (includ­ing both incar­cer­ated people and correc­tional employ­ees), and reports from prison employ­ees that the current prison condi­tions are chaotic.
  • On Novem­ber 16, the Cuyahoga County Jail stopped admit­ting those arres­ted on new misde­meanor charges, except in cases of domestic viol­ence. The decision was inten­ded to reduce the number of people incar­cer­ated at the jail and limit the spread of Covid-19.
  • On Decem­ber 11, 17 percent of people held at the Cuyahoga County jail had tested posit­ive for Covid-19 (237 cases), almost fifty of them in a single day. In response to the grow­ing outbreak, the Ohio National Guard began staff­ing the jail, in addi­tion to the 12 other Ohio carceral facil­it­ies where the Guard was already supplant­ing depleted staff.
  • On Decem­ber 14, the Cuyahoga County jail announced that they would release some people convicted of misde­mean­ors, in order to reduce the number of people held at the jail. Some of those released with be imme­di­ately trans­ferred to another facil­ity, and those convicted of domestic viol­ence charges are not eligible for release under this meas­ure. 
  • The next day, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that his admin­is­tra­tion has not yet decided when incar­cer­ated people and staff will be eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, even as cases among prison employ­ees in Ohio have risen more than 80 percent in the last month, and over 500 incar­cer­ated people tested posit­ive in the first two weeks of Decem­ber.
  • On Decem­ber 23, Gove. Mike DeWine announced that the state does not have a plan for vaccin­at­ing all incar­cer­ated people or prison staff members yet, though facil­ity employ­ees will be prior­it­ized above the major­ity of incar­cer­ated people. The state distrib­uted vaccines to some extremely vulner­able folks in prison medical care units at the end of Decem­ber, but the major­ity of the state’s pris­ons remain uncer­tain as to when they will receive enhanced protec­tion from Covid-19 outbreaks.
  • On March 15, Ohio Valley offi­cials repor­ted that correc­tional facil­it­ies through­out the region in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia continue to be over­crowded. They attrib­ute the increase in prison popu­la­tion through­out the pandemic to the area’s opioid crisis; the number of drug-related crimes in the area went up during the pandemic. Advoc­ates argue that the Covid-19 mitig­a­tion strategies in the region’s pris­ons have not been suffi­cient and that the states should prior­it­ize incar­cer­ated people for coronavirus vaccines. 
  • On April 1, about 1/3 of people held at the Summit county jail in Ohio were vaccin­ated with the one-dose John­son & John­son Covid-19 vaccine. The jail has not sched­uled another vaccine clinic, and the CDC’s pause of vaccin­a­tions using this vaccine has delayed other possible clin­ics.
  • On April 12, the ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Depart­ment of Rehab­il­it­a­tion and Correc­tion arguing that the seizure of incar­cer­ated people’s Covid-19 relief stim­u­lus checks to pay fines and fees viol­ates the equal protec­tion clause of the state’s consti­tu­tion.
  • On April 29, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the state’s Depart­ment of Correc­tions and Rehab­il­it­a­tion has to pay Mark Griffin, who is incar­cer­ated at the Toledo Correc­tional Insti­tu­tion, after fail­ing to fulfill his request for inform­a­tion about the insti­tu­tion’s rate of Covid-19 cases among staff and incar­cer­ated people. 
  • On May 17, volun­tary vaccin­a­tions began at the Cuyahoga County Jail. While only two hous­ing pods were offered the John­son & John­son vaccine on the first day of the program, all eligible people accep­ted the shot.
  • On May 18, Ohio state offi­cials announced that incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als are not eligible for the Ohio Vax-a-Million lottery draw­ings. The draw­ings will give up to five $1 million prizes to Ohioans 18+ who have gotten at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and up to five four-year, full-ride schol­ar­ships (includ­ing room and board, tuition, and books) to any Ohio state college or univer­sity for Ohioans 12–17 years old.

Oklahoma

  • On April 10, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted the prison sentences of more than 450 incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als to decrease prison over­crowding and reduce the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak in pris­ons. 
  • Accord­ing to VICE News, the Grady County Jail in Oklahoma has earned a repu­ta­tion as a “super-spreader” facil­ity, as it has been iden­ti­fied as the source of outbreaks at federal insti­tu­tions across the coun­try. “In an internal Bureau of Pris­ons email sent in August…a senior regional offi­cial warns staff, 'Should you receive inmates who have been housed in Grady County (OK) Jail, it would be a good idea to assume they are posit­ive for Covid-19.'”
  • A report released on Janu­ary 7 revealed that commut­a­tion approvals in Oklahoma plummeted during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the parole board approv­ing 33 percent fewer Stage 1 commut­a­tion in 2020 as compared to 2019, despite consid­er­ing over 1,000 more applic­a­tions.
  • On Janu­ary 23, the Oklahoma DOC announced that it will begin vaccin­at­ing prison employ­ees and incar­cer­ated people in Febru­ary, begin­ning with profes­sional medical person­nel (followed by staff, then incar­cer­ate people). The plan does not fully prior­it­ize incar­cer­ated people, but provides more of a struc­ture for vaccin­at­ing them than many other states.
  • On March 16, the Oklahoma state Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that they will begin allow­ing in-person visits again at the state’s pris­ons start­ing April 1. The pris­ons have been closed to visit­ors since Septem­ber 30, 2020. Visit­ors will be allowed for a period of two hours and must wear a face mask supplied by the prison, complete a health screen­ing and main­tain 6 feet of social distan­cing.
  • As of April 12, 53% of people incar­cer­ated in Oklaho­ma’s state prison system had been vaccin­ated for Covid-19. Advoc­ates argue that educa­tion about the vaccine is essen­tial to increas­ing the number of people will­ing to be vaccin­ated in pris­ons.
  • On May 10, Oklahoma pris­ons began allow­ing in-person visit­a­tion again for the first time in over a year. The state will also begin re-allow­ing volun­teers who lead reli­gious services and skills-based classes later this month.
  • The Oklahoma Depart­ment of Correc­tions has aban­doned its prom­ise to conduct mandat­ory Covid-19 test­ing despite its recent surge of the Delta vari­ant. While the Depart­ment of Correc­tions claims it follows CDC guidelines concern­ing contact tracing, mask­ing, quar­ant­in­ing, and isol­a­tion, the agency does not follow guidelines for COVID test­ing.

Oregon

  • On April 8, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown asked for inform­a­tion from state and local correc­tions offi­cials regard­ing the possible early release of incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als to limit the spread of Covid-19 spread in Oregon pris­ons.
  • In Oregon, many incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als are resist­ing Covid-19 test­ing because they may lose their limited priv­ileges if they are trans­ferred to DOC quar­ant­ine units. 
  • On June 15, the Oregon House and Senate released a “decom­pres­sion” plan that requires the Depart­ment of Correc­tions to imme­di­ately release adults in custody who are at high risk for Covid-19, as well as indi­vidu­als who are a few months away from the end of their sentence and have hous­ing avail­able.
  • Follow­ing a surge in Oregon’s correc­tional cases, more than a third of people incar­cer­ated in the state were in quar­ant­ine as of July 20 – about 3,000 indi­vidu­als total.
  • On August 25, Gov. Brown asked for the Oregon DOC to compile a list of people whose sentences could be commuted due to Covid-19 medical vulner­ab­il­ity. This is the second such list that the state has compiled, the first of which led to the commut­a­tion of 57 sentences in June.
  • By Octo­ber, Covid-19 was consist­ently being trans­mit­ted inside pris­ons at ten times the rate of community spread outside correc­tional facil­it­ies, stok­ing wide­spread fear from those behind bars.
  • A Decem­ber grand jury report found that popu­la­tion reduc­tion at the Mult­nomah County Jail, which dropped from oper­at­ing at 95 percent capa­city in the early spring to 66 percent capa­city by winter, led to a posit­ive impact on facil­ity oper­a­tion, partic­u­larly in mitig­at­ing the spread of Covid-19 within its walls. The report “encour­aged the sher­iff’s office to look for altern­at­ive ways to address the mental health needs of those who have remained in custody, and to resume offer­ing free phone calls in places without in-person visit­a­tion.”
  • On Decem­ber 2, Gov. Kate Brown announced another expan­sion of the criteria for early release form prison in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The announce­ment signals the third time since March that the governor has ordered the Depart­ment of Correc­tions to review people for poten­tial release, this time includ­ing those within six months of release from prison.
  • On Decem­ber 16, A federal judge ruled that state offi­cials in Oregon are not protec­ted from liab­il­ity claims if they did not imple­ment appro­pri­ate safety meas­ures to limit the spread of Covid-19, allow­ing a suit from seven currently and formerly incar­cer­ated people to proceed in the court system. The lawsuit alleges that the state viol­ated their Eighth Amend­ment right against cruel and unusual punish­ment by negli­gently refus­ing to carry out protec­tion meas­ures.
  • On Decem­ber 28, DOC offi­cials in Oregon announced that nurses, doctors and correc­tions officers who are in close contact with incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als who have contrac­ted Covid-19 are the highest prior­ity for the vaccines. They also included a small number of incar­cer­ated people respons­ible for clean­ing hous­ing units in this prior­ity group, but only 400 total doses of the vaccine were made avail­able to the agency by the end of 2020.
  • On Tues­day, Febru­ary 2, a judge ordered that all people incar­cer­ated by the Oregon prison system must be prior­it­ized for vaccin­a­tion from Covid-19. The prelim­in­ary injunc­tion makes all incar­cer­ated people in the state imme­di­ately eligible for the vaccine, along with all other people living in congreg­ate settings (such as nurs­ing homes). The next day, Gov. Kate Brown decided not to appeal the decision and instead move ahead with the vaccin­a­tions.
  • On Febru­ary 10, Oregon state offi­cials estim­ated that 55% of prison staff will choose to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, despite all but one of the Covid-19 outbreaks in Oregon’s pris­ons being trace­able to staff’s contact with people outside pris­ons.
  • On March 11, Gov. Brown signaled that she will consider short­en­ing prison sentences for incar­cer­ated people in Oregon who worked as fire­fight­ers during the state’s 2020 wild­fires. The Depart­ment of Correc­tions iden­ti­fied 164 indi­vidu­als, includ­ing people convicted of viol­ent crimes, who may qual­ify for early release. Some district attor­neys have opposed the proposal, arguing that early release for people incar­cer­ated for viol­ent crimes would dimin­ish public safety.
  • On March 24, the Oregon Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted that the state has been facing push­back among correc­tional officers about receiv­ing the Covid-19 vaccine. At Snake River Correc­tional Insti­tu­tion in Malheur County, espe­cially, many correc­tional staff, most of whom live in Idaho, do not believe the virus is seri­ous, that mask­ing is effect­ive, and are concerned about unsup­por­ted vaccine side effects such as infer­til­ity.
  • By mid-May, the Oregon state prison system reached a 70 percent vaccin­a­tion rate inside its facil­it­ies, greater than the state’s general popu­la­tion. The vaccin­a­tion push was promp­ted by a judge’s orders in Febru­ary to imme­di­ately start vaccin­at­ing all incar­cer­ated people in Oregon, and no one inside the state’s pris­ons has died of Covid-19 since.
  • On June 22, The Orego­nian repor­ted that 25 people incar­cer­ated at Mult­nomah County’s Inverness Jail had tested posit­ive for Covid-19.
  • On August 13, a public defender in Oregon filed a lawsuit on behalf of the over 1,500 people incar­cer­ated at Sheridan federal prison; the filing claims that during the pandemic, “those in custody report 'danger­ous and unbear­able condi­tions’ that 'could reas­on­ably be considered excess­ive punish­ment’.”
  • Prison offi­cials from the Oregon Depart­ment of Correc­tions estim­ate that only 50–55 percent of the agency’s 4,500 employ­ees have received some version of the Covid-19 vaccine, despite facil­it­ies having been sites of some of the largest outbreaks of coronavirus across the state.

Pennsylvania

  • On April 10, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued an exec­ut­ive order that could lead to the release of between 1,500 and 1,800 “non-viol­ent, at-risk” indi­vidu­als incar­cer­ated in Pennsylvania state pris­ons who are several months from their sched­uled release. 
  • On April 10, Gov. Wolf ordered the Pennsylvania Depart­ment of Correc­tions to estab­lish a tempor­ary reprieve program. The admin­is­tra­tion estim­ated that up to 1,800 people were eligible for release. As of May 8, fewer than 150 people have been released through the program. 
  • On May 20, Phil­adelphia began univer­sal Covid-19 test­ing for the 3,800 people incar­cer­ated in its four city jails, regard­less of whether or not they have symp­toms. 
  • As of June 2, Gov. Wolf had still not released the 1,800 indi­vidu­als eligible for release under his April 10 reprieve order, inspir­ing hunger strikes across a coali­tion of organ­iz­a­tions.
  • Pennsylvania DOC Secret­ary John Wetzel has contin­ued draft­ing a plan to shift oper­a­tional capa­city for its state pris­ons, with the inten­tion of releas­ing at least 2,000 currently incar­cer­ated people at greater risk of contract­ing Covid-19 while they remain behind bars. In the first week of Septem­ber, 33 new posit­ive cases were confirmed in a single Pennsylvania county prison.
  • At the Laurel High­lands State Correc­tional Insti­tu­tion, which func­tions partially as a long-term-care facil­ity for many of the oldest and sick­est men in Pennsylvani­a’s prison system, 444 incar­cer­ated people tested posit­ive for the coronavirus in the month of Novem­ber alone. By Decem­ber 2, eight men had died of the virus in the past two weeks, and 49 staff members were also confirmed posit­ive for Covid-19.
  • At the Federal Correc­tional Insti­tu­tion in Loretto, incar­cer­ated people have been gran­ted compas­sion­ate release but not actu­ally been released. On Decem­ber 9, at least one of those people tested posit­ive for Covid-19, adding to the facil­ity’s rapidly spread­ing outbreak. Accord­ing to the BOP, 538 incar­cer­ated people and 22 staff members were exper­i­en­cing active infec­tions.
  • Within a single week in Decem­ber, 228 people held in Phil­adelphia jails tested posit­ive for Covid-19. Staff and incar­cer­ated people alike continue to allege that even more cases are going undetec­ted, due to inad­equate test­ing and a lack of contact tracing.
  • On Janu­ary 14, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ordered Phil­adelphia jails to relax some of their most extreme Covid-19 lock­down meas­ures in order to protect the mental health of incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als there.
  • By Febru­ary 2,over 13,000 people in the Pennsylvania prison system had tested posit­ive for Covid-19, with at least 100 deaths directly caused by the coronavirus.
  • On Febru­ary 9, spokes­per­sons for Lehigh and Northamp­ton Counties in Pennsylvania repor­ted that Covid-19 cases were down signi­fic­antly from previ­ous months in jails in both counties. There are currently two active cases among people being held in the Lehigh County jail and zero cases in the Northamp­ton jail.
  • On March 17, the Pennsylvania Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted that two of the state’s pris­ons have vaccin­ated more than 70% of people incar­cer­ated in the facil­it­ies. They attrib­ute the high rate of vaccin­a­tion to an incent­ive program in which people who receive the vaccine are eligible for a $25 commis­sary credit toward items such as cloth­ing and food. The money for the incent­ive program comes out of the Inmate General Welfare Fund, which is funded by fines and fees incar­cer­ated people pay to the DOC. 
  • On March 19, alleg­a­tions from incar­cer­ated people and staff at Lycoming County Prison in Pennsylvania repor­ted that the prison lacked suffi­cient quar­ant­ine proced­ures when there was an outbreak at the insti­tu­tion. Sources state that people who tested posit­ive were not separ­ated from the rest of the popu­la­tion.
  • On April 5, the Pennsylvania Depart­ment of Correc­tions began admin­is­ter­ing the John­son & John­son Covid-19 vaccine to incar­cer­ated people through­out the state. At least eleven of the state’s prison have received doses of the vaccine, so far. 
  • On April 26, West­mo­re­land County in Pennsylvania announced that incar­cer­ated people in the county’s prison will receive a $25 credit to the commis­sary after receiv­ing a Covid-19 vaccine.
  • On May 2, people held at the Allegheny County Jail in Pennsylvania repor­ted that through­out the past year, the jail’s kitchen had “filthy” work­ing condi­tions, includ­ing roaches and rats, lack of coronavirus precau­tions, poor food qual­ity, and work­ers quit­ting. Kitchen work­ers said the condi­tions stemmed from contracts with compan­ies like Summit Food Service and the jail’s gener­ally poor admin­is­tra­tion and manage­ment prac­tices.
  • Begin­ning on May 22, the Pennsylvania DOC star­ted phas­ing in the resump­tion of in-person visit­a­tion at its facil­it­ies. The program began with SCI Laurel High­lands, then will resume at four other state facil­it­ies by the begin­ning of June. The inten­tion is to resume in-person visits at all state facil­it­ies by the summer.
  • The Phil­adelphia Inquirer repor­ted that by mid-June, more than 75% of Pennsylvani­a’s prison popu­la­tion had been vaccin­ated against Covid-19. On the other hand, accord­ing to volun­tary reports, just 22% of the depart­ment employ­ees were vaccin­ated.
  • On June 30, the Pennsylvania DOC announced that four addi­tional facil­it­ies have final­ized plans to rein­state in-person visit­a­tion. SCI Smith­field and SCI Somer­set will begin visit­a­tions on July 8 and SCI Frack­ville and SCI Mercer will begin visit­a­tions on July 9.
  • The Pennsylvania Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that effect­ive August 9, in-person visit­a­tion will be suspen­ded until further notice for the unvac­cin­ated incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion only. Addi­tion­ally, incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als will be assigned hous­ing based on their vaccin­a­tion status.
  • After approx­im­ately three months without a Covid-19 outbreak, in August, the Lancaster County Prison found over 60 posit­ive cases within a week among incar­cer­ated people.
  • On Octo­ber 6th, the Phil­adelphia Inquirer released an invest­ig­a­tion docu­ment­ing “unsus­tain­able, danger­ous and unac­cept­able” condi­tions in Phil­adelphia pris­ons. The report was published follow­ing an increase in viol­ence, partic­u­larly homicides, within the facil­it­ies. The pris­ons are currently banning in-person visits, limit­ing phone calls and showers, delay­ing medical care, and remain­ing short-staffed by about 500 officers.
  • On Novem­ber 30, the York County spokes­man announced that the York County Prison in Sprin­gett­s­bury Town­ship will remain in lock­down due to a Covid-19 outbreak that has infec­ted at least 140 people.

Rhode Island

  • The Director of the Rhode Island Depart­ment of Correc­tions is submit­ting weekly lists of people being held on low bail amounts to the public defend­er’s and attor­ney gener­al’s offices for assess­ment in efforts to have them released. The state has also been eval­u­at­ing people with less than 4 years on their sentences to see if they can retro­act­ively apply “good time” cred­its for early release.
  • On Novem­ber 30, the Rhode Island Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that 488 incar­cer­ated people and 112 staff members have tested posit­ive for Covid-19. In Novem­ber alone, the state’s maximum-secur­ity unit confirmed coronavirus cases among 316 of the 354 people held there.
  • During the last week of Decem­ber, Rhode Island began vaccin­at­ing incar­cer­ated people in the state. The vaccin­a­tions are in accord­ance with Phase One of its distri­bu­tion plan, which prior­it­izes “older adults in congreg­ate or crowded settings”.
  • On March 17, Dr. Justin Berk (Medical Director for the Rhode Island DOC) repor­ted that 70% of correc­tional staff and 73% of incar­cer­ated people in the state have registered to receive the Covid-19 vaccine so far. The DOC attrib­utes their high rates of vaccin­a­tion sign up to educa­tional campaigns and outreach. 
  • A report from the US Senten­cing Commis­sion found those who were incar­cer­ated in federal prison in Rhode Island and sought compas­sion­ate release were approved 40% of the time. Of the 78 people who reques­ted early release, 30 were gran­ted, 45 were denied, and three were with­drawn.
  • On Novem­ber 17, the Rhode Island Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted an increase of 57 cases of Covid-19 infec­tions at the Anthony P. Trav­is­ono Intake Service Center in Cran­ston.

South Caro­lina 

  • As of Septem­ber 29, South Caro­lina Depart­ment of Correc­tions (SCDOC) has repor­ted 31 deaths among incar­cer­ated people, in addi­tion to 2,140 posit­ive cases. Incar­cer­ated people remain in charge of clean­ing the prison facil­it­ies, and the SCDOC has acknow­ledged the near-impossib­il­ity of social distan­cing behind bars, yet the state has not embraced a mass-release strategy to cope with virus concerns. 
  • On June 2, the South Caro­lina Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced select pris­ons will begin in-person visit­a­tion on June 19 for incar­cer­ated people who are fully vaccin­ated.
  • On Octo­ber 6, South Caro­lin­a’s Joint Bond Review Commit­tee approved $92 million in improve­ments to be made in pris­ons statewide, after a 2018 riot at Lee Correc­tional Insti­tu­tion left 7 people dead and show­cased the need for adequate staff­ing and secur­ity upgrades.

South Dakota

  • In late July, South Dakota’s Pierre Community Work Center began rein­stat­ing some of its community service projects. By Septem­ber, the 172 women incar­cer­ated there had tested posit­ive for Covid-19, and the work release programs were indef­in­itely paused again.
  • Between Octo­ber 23–27, the South Dakota prison system repor­ted 897 new posit­ive cases among incar­cer­ated persons and staff, and almost half of all incar­cer­ated people in the state have tested posit­ive for Covid-19.
  • On Novem­ber 9, the first Covid-19 death of an incar­cer­ated person in South Dakota was repor­ted by the state Depart­ment of Correc­tions. The same day, the depart­ment repor­ted that out of the 3,990 Covid-19 tests admin­istered within its facil­it­ies, 1,870 incar­cer­ated people have tested posit­ive.
  • Begin­ning March 8, very limited in-person visit­a­tion will resume in the South Dakota prison system, with several precau­tion­ary meas­ures in place to account for social distan­cing meas­ures and coronavirus-related concerns.
  • On April 1, the South Caro­lina Depart­ment of Correc­tions was prepar­ing to increase their volume of vaccin­a­tions in the state’s jails and pris­ons. As of the end of March 729 incar­cer­ated people above 65 or with a health condi­tion had been vaccin­ated in the state.
  • On July 27, Gov. Kristi Noem ended the mask mandate in the South Dakota prison system. 
  • On Octo­ber 27, the South Dakota Women’s Prison repor­ted a Covid-19 outbreak in its facil­ity. The prison then faced criti­cism as sources revealed that staff had been told to come into work even with a Covid-19 diagnosis. Witnesses also report a lack of masks in the facil­ity and that people are not being separ­ated from the general popu­la­tion while await­ing Covid-19 test results.

Tennessee

  • On August 31, state offi­cials announced that nearly 1,000 of the 1,410 incar­cer­ated people tested at the South Cent­ral Correc­tional Facil­ity have been diagnosed with Covid-19.
  • As of Febru­ary 9, experts in correc­tional health worried that Covid-19 had worsened pre-exist­ing weak­nesses in Tennessee pris­ons’ medical systems. The medical care in the state’s pris­ons, which was already limited, now has even slower response times for routine and specialty care because of Covid-19. Addic­tion treat­ment programs in the state’s prison system have also been reduced by the pandemic, and the number of over­doses in these insti­tu­tions has increased during the pandemic.
  • In early March, a Tennessee advis­ory panel concluded that despite incar­cer­ated people being a high-risk popu­la­tion, prior­it­iz­ing them for inocu­la­tion could be a “public rela­tions night­mare;” there­fore, the state decided to leave them among the last group of state resid­ents to become eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccin­a­tions.
  • On March 9, a spokes­per­son for the Tennessee Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted that the state had begun vaccin­at­ing incar­cer­ated people over 65 who qual­i­fied for the state’s vaccine rollout phase due to their age. The DOC has ordered more doses of both the Moderna and John­son & John­son vaccine and plans to first vaccin­ate older incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als and then those with health risks.
  • A report from the US Senten­cing Commis­sion found that those who were incar­cer­ated in federal prison in Tennessee and sought compas­sion­ate release were approved 18% of the time. Of the 336 motions that were filed, only 61 indi­vidu­als were released.
  • On Octo­ber 18, the Tennessee Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted that Covid-19 test posit­iv­ity rates at Trous­dale Turner and South Cent­ral Correc­tional Facil­it­ies of 31 percent and 28 percent, respect­ively, while the state aver­age remains around 8 percent. Both facil­it­ies are managed by Core­Civic and over­seen by TDOC, and both facil­it­ies do not require employ­ees to be vaccin­ated or provide negat­ive test results.

Texas

  • In Texas, at least 10,500 people have been approved for release by the parole board, but remain incar­cer­ated while they wait to complete pre-release programs that have been suspen­ded by Covid-19. Calls to release these poten­tial parolees have been largely ignored by the governor.
  • As of July 23, tens of thou­sands of parole-approved people are still incar­cer­ated in Texas. Many have been wait­ing six months or longer for release, and during that time, more people incar­cer­ated in Texas have died from the virus than in any state prison system in Amer­ica.
  • As of Friday, Aug. 14, there were 65 posit­ive Covid-19 cases inside the federal prison in Beau­mont, Texas, rais­ing alarm among famil­ies and advoc­ates of people incar­cer­ated there.
  • On Septem­ber 29, Federal District Judge Keith Ellison of the South­ern District of Texas issued a perman­ent injunc­tion in favor of the plaintiffs in Valentine v. Collier, a case chal­len­ging the lack of Covid-19 precau­tions being taken in a prison facil­ity oper­ated by the Texas Depart­ment of Crim­inal Justice (TDCJ). At the time of his ruling, about 40% of the popu­la­tion was infec­ted and 20 incar­cer­ated people had died.
  • In Novem­ber, the Covid, Correc­tions, and Over­sight Project released a profile of Covid-19 deaths in carceral facil­it­ies in Texas. The report iden­ti­fies that at least 204 people behind bars have died since the pandemic began, in addi­tion to at least 27 staff members. It also found that in Texas’ county jails, almost 80 percent of the people who died from Covid-19 between March and Octo­ber had not been convicted of a crime.
  • Coronavirus-related deaths became so over­whelm­ing in El Paso, Texas, that the Medical Exam­iner began forcing incar­cer­ated people on work release to assist with trans­port­ing the over­flow­ing number of bodies at the local morgue.
  • On Decem­ber 13, invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists released data show­ing that the Texas Depart­ment of Crim­inal Justice’s lackluster response to the pandemic has increased the spread of Covid-19 behind bars, poten­tially exacer­bat­ing outbreaks in carceral setting and further endan­ger­ing surround­ing communit­ies.
  • A federal judge ordered the Harris County Jail to “swiftly review” roughly 2,000 people for bail reduc­tions, pretrial release, or post-convic­tion release by the end of Janu­ary, hoping to prevent the rapidly over­flow­ing jail from becom­ing more of a “killing field”.
  • On Janu­ary 20, it was revealed that the El Paso County Sher­iff’s Office spent more than $80,000 on face masks from April through Septem­ber, but did not provide any of the masks to incar­cer­ated people.
  • By Janu­ary 2021, multiple county jails in Texas are out of space to hold people, due to the pandem­ic’s stalling of the crim­inal legal system coupled with the state’s reluct­ance to release those held in police or DOC custody. The lack of space in many county jails has made the already diffi­cult tasks of social distan­cing and quar­ant­in­ing new arrivals completely impossible, and incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als continue to die at alarm­ing rates.
  • By Febru­ary 2, the Texas Depart­ment of Crim­inal Justice had admin­istered more than 5,500 does of the Covid-19 vaccine, but not a single shot went to incar­cer­ated people—even those who qual­ify for vaccin­a­tions under the state’s current imple­ment­a­tion phase.
  • Also on Febru­ary 2, Nueces County, Texas Judge Barbara Canales announced that the county will delay the return of in-person jury trials, which were supposed to begin Febru­ary 10. Nueces County currently has 18 people in jail wait­ing to be tried for capital murder.
  • As of Febru­ary 16, approx­im­ately 1,000 women incar­cer­ated at FMC Carswell medical prison in Fort Worth, Texas, 31 of whom had Covid-19 at the time, had not had heat or hot water for multiple days as a result of the winter storm in Texas.
  • On March 9, the Texas Depart­ment of Crim­inal Justice announced that in-person visit­ors will again be allowed at state pris­ons. Incar­cer­ated people will be allowed two in-person visits per month, each with one adult at a time in order to main­tain distan­cing require­ments. All visit­ors will need to test negat­ive on a rapid Covid-19 test before enter­ing, face masks will be required, and phys­ical contact will not be allowed.
  • A study by the Lyndon B. John­son School of Public Affairs at the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin found that 18 people died of Covid-19 after being approved for parole and wait­ing to be released.
  • The Texas Depart­ment of Crim­inal Justice repor­ted its Glossbren­ner Unit in Duval County has 61 active Covid-19 cases among incar­cer­ated people and four active Covid-19 cases among staff. 377 incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als are in medical isol­a­tion.
  • On Octo­ber 19th, The Bexar County Jail in San Anto­nio, Texas, announced that it would be giving $100 commis­sary care pack­ages to people being held there who volun­teer to get vaccin­ated against Covid-19 and also encour­age other people to volun­teer for both doses.

Utah

  • At Wash­ing­ton County jail in Utah, nearly 60 out of 300 incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als tested posit­ive for Covid-19 in the last week of June. Despite this recent spike, the Utah Supreme Court has stood by its decision to limit releases.
  • On Octo­ber 6, the Utah State Prison repor­ted an increase of 194 coronavirus cases in just two weeks. The outbreak was isol­ated within two cell blocks; after discov­ery of the infec­tions prison staff were provided full PPE but incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als were only given masks.
  • As of April 29, all people incar­cer­ated at the Utah State Prison in Draper and at the Cent­ral Utah Correc­tional Facil­ity in Gunnison had been offered at least one Covid-19 vaccine. The Utah Depart­ment of Correc­tions plans to continue to offer the vaccine to people incar­cer­ated in the state.
  • On April 30, the Utah Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that in-person visits, volun­teers, and reli­gious programs can begin again start­ing early June. Visits have been suspen­ded since March 2020.
  • On July 27, nearly 1,000 incar­cer­ated people in Utah state pris­ons received a Covid-19 vaccine.

Vermont 

  • On Septem­ber 4, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that coronavirus-related trial delays are not reason enough to release people detained pre-trial, deny­ing the appeal of a man who has spent more than two years in jail await­ing trial on sex charges. All crim­inal trials in the state have been cancelled due to the pandemic, and there are no plans to resume trials before 2021.
  • In testi­mony to state lawmakers on Febru­ary 3, interim Correc­tions Commis­sioner Jim Baker expressed concern about the state’s reli­ance upon isol­a­tion to quell the spread of Covid-19 behind bars. A 14-day quar­ant­ine period has forced prison facil­it­ies to place many people in solit­ary confine­ment, and Baker informed the state legis­lature that some held in isol­a­tion have attemp­ted self-harm, with at least one suicide.
  • During the last week of Febru­ary, the North­ern State prison found 127 cases of Covid-19 among its incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion, roughly one-third of the indi­vidu­als held there. The facil­ity entered a lock­down after 22 cases were detec­ted during a single day.
  • On March 11, Vermont correc­tions offi­cials repor­ted that a coronavirus outbreak at North­ern State Correc­tional Facil­ity in Newport is continu­ing to spread, with 10 new cases this week. So far, there have been upwards of 150 Covid-19 cases asso­ci­ated with the outbreak.
  • On April 21, experts repor­ted that Vermont’s extreme isol­a­tion meas­ures in its pris­ons system have resul­ted in it being the only state in which no incar­cer­ated people have died of Covid-19. However, the proto­cols and a lack of access to typical mental health services have also had disastrous consequences for incar­cer­ated people’s mental health includ­ing at least one suicide and one attemp­ted suicide in the pris­on’s isol­a­tion cells where people incar­cer­ated in the facil­ity quar­ant­ined. 
  • On June 16, the Vermont Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that it hopes to resume in-person visits on July 1. Currently, between 65% and 75% of the state’s incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion have been vaccin­ated.
  • On Thursday, August 5, the Vermont Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that three correc­tional center staff members tested posit­ive for Covid-19 this week. Contract tracing by the state did not reveal any close contact with incar­cer­ated people.
  • On Novem­ber 1, the North­east Correc­tional prison in St. Johns­bury went into a full lock­down after nine incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als tested posit­ive. Every­one in the facil­ity was tested on Novem­ber 2 and again on Novem­ber 5.
  • On Novem­ber 22, the North­ern State Correc­tions Facil­ity in Newport, Vermont repor­ted an increase in posit­ive Covid-19 cases with a total of 32 active cases in the facil­ity.

Virginia

  • In late April, Virginia lawmakers gran­ted the Virginia DOC the power to release people convicted of non-viol­ent crimes early, so long as the indi­vidual had a year or less left before their original release date. 
  • At the begin­ning of Septem­ber, the Pamun­key Regional Jail in Hanover, Virginia began exper­i­en­cing a Covid-19 outbreak, with at least 120 inmates and 20 staff members test­ing posit­ive despite emer­gency proto­cols offi­cials say have been in place since March to prevent the conta­gion from infilt­rat­ing the facil­ity. An offi­cial remarked that prevent­ing outbreaks in carceral settings is “virtu­ally impossible,” because of the densely packed shared space that consti­tutes jails and pris­ons.
  • In response to an outbreak in Novem­ber, offi­cials at the Ches­apeake Correc­tional Center allowed every incar­cer­ated person to be tested for Covid-19. These tests, admin­istered to 859 incar­cer­ated people and 360 staff members on Novem­ber 21, indic­ated 232 incar­cer­ated people with the virus in addi­tion to four depu­ties. With the facil­ity’s aver­age daily popu­la­tion hover­ing around 985 people, the infec­tion rate as of Novem­ber 27 is roughly 23 percent.
  • On Decem­ber 10, the Virginia DOC repor­ted 593 active cases of coronavirus among incar­cer­ated people, in addi­tion to 227 active cases among staff. Since March, at least 35 incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als have died from Covid-19 in the Virginia system.
  • By Janu­ary 20, some counties progressed to Phase 1B of their vaccin­a­tion efforts, extend­ing eligib­il­ity to incar­cer­ated people in Virginia. In order to encour­age people to volun­teer for vaccin­a­tion, the VDOC began by offer­ing “free email stamps and tele­phone cred­its as well as a care pack­age filled with commis­sary items, includ­ing snacks" to those will­ing to be first in line.
  • On Febru­ary 12, staff at the Prince William County Adult Deten­tion Center in Virginia repor­ted a Covid-19 outbreak among people incar­cer­ated at the facil­ity. The jail has vaccin­ated 150 of the 572 people held at the jail.
  • Virgini­a’s early release program, which was imple­men­ted to limit the spread of Covid-19 inside VDOC facil­it­ies, will end on July 1. Since the pandemic began, 2,100 people have been released through the program. The VDOC also reports that about 70% of its incar­cer­ated popu­la­tion has been vaccin­ated against Covid-19.

Wash­ing­ton

  • On April 13, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office announced that Wash­ing­ton state would commute the sentences of up to 950 incar­cer­ated people who are part of vulner­able popu­la­tions. This announce­ment came a few days after the Wash­ing­ton Supreme Court ordered the Governor and the Wash­ing­ton DOC to “imme­di­ately exer­cise their author­ity to take all neces­sary steps to protect the health and safety" of inmates in response to the Covid-19 outbreak." 
  • On April 23, a divided Wash­ing­ton Supreme denied a request to release thou­sands of inmates from the state’s pris­ons due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Court said that the incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als who had sued failed to show that the Wash­ing­ton DOC was not prop­erly address­ing the risk of Covid-19. 
  • After their first posit­ive case on June 15, Yakima County Jail in Wash­ing­ton has at least 73 confirmed cases as of July 2. All 408 of the people incar­cer­ated there have been tested, with about 200 results still pending. The jail’s Chief has noted that it is diffi­cult to contain a prison outbreak when there is concur­rent community spread.
  • Accord­ing to an invest­ig­a­tion by the inde­pend­ent ombuds office, offi­cials at the Coyote Ridge Correc­tions Center in Frank­lin County were respons­ible for worsen­ing its recent outbreak of Covid-19. The invest­ig­a­tion found that missteps by admin­is­trat­ors led to 350 infec­tions and the deaths of two incar­cer­ated people.
  • Among the first people to receive vaccin­a­tions in the state of Wash­ing­ton are incar­cer­ated people and staff members in medical care units. Though the first phase of vaccine distri­bu­tion in Decem­ber only provided a small number of vaccines to the Depart­ment of Correc­tions, prison staff and those behind bars will continue to be prior­it­ized accord­ing to the highest level of risk.
  • On Febru­ary 2, Spokane County, Wash­ing­ton opened a book-and-release trailer for people accused of low-level crimes, which allows for increased social distan­cing during the book­ing process and houses a profes­sional navig­ator to help defend­ants access social services. The county hopes the center will curb the spread of Covid-19 because the approx­im­ately 13% of people taken to jail who qual­ify for imme­di­ate release will now go through this center.
  • By Febru­ary 4, at least 40 percent of incar­cer­ated people in Wash­ing­ton had tested posit­ive for Covid-19, with no end in sight to the outbreaks and an offi­cial count that is likely far below the actual number of cases.
  • As of March 26, more than 50 people tested posit­ive for Covid-19 during an outbreak at the King County jail. Incar­cer­ated people over 65 have been vaccin­ated and the Depart­ment of Adult and Juven­ile Deten­tion staff recently became eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, but vaccine clin­ics for incar­cer­ated people under 65 are not sched­uled until at least April 6.
  • On March 30, Columbia Legal Services, a Seattle-based legal aid group, announced that they are suing the Wash­ing­ton state Depart­ment of Correc­tions demand­ing that the DOC make Covid-19 vaccines avail­able imme­di­ately to people incar­cer­ated in Wash­ing­ton pris­ons. The lawsuit asserts that deny­ing incar­cer­ated people access to the vaccine viol­ates the consti­tu­tion’s ban on “cruel and unusual punish­ment.”
  • On May 6, staff at a state prison in Monroe, Wash­ing­ton gave 208 incar­cer­ated people a dose of the Moderna vaccine that was past its “beyond use” date. Moderna reports that the vaccines should still be effect­ive at protect­ing against Covid-19.
  • On Novem­ber 24, the Yakima Health District announced that 51 people at the Yakima County jail are infec­ted with Covid-19. Health offi­cials have isol­ated the 47 incar­cer­ated people and 4 staff members who recently tested posit­ive.
  • On Novem­ber 26, offi­cials at the Monroe Correc­tions Complex stated that nearly 60 people were moved into medical isol­a­tion due to a new outbreak of Covid-19. The facil­ity has suspen­ded visit­a­tion until the end of the quar­ant­ine period.

West Virginia

  • On May 2, correc­tional officers at USP Hazelton in West Virginia protested the Bureau of Pris­ons Director Michael Carva­jal, citing his hand­ling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • As of March 30, people incar­cer­ated in state pris­ons in West Virginia had not been offered the Covid-19 vaccine. The state opened vaccine eligib­il­ity to all adults, and the federal govern­ment is vaccin­at­ing people incar­cer­ated in federal pris­ons, but those in state pris­ons have not heard when they will have the oppor­tun­ity to be vaccin­ated.

Wiscon­sin

  • Between March 2 and May 4, the Wiscon­sin DOC released nearly 1,600 incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als in response to Covid-19. The major­ity of those indi­vidu­als were incar­cer­ated because they had viol­ated the terms of their parole or proba­tion. 
  • Wiscon­sin has decreased the aver­age daily popu­la­tion of its youth facil­it­ies to 76 as of July 10, which is roughly half of its pre-pandemic popu­la­tion.
  • On Tues­day, Octo­ber 6, Wiscon­sin’s Kettle Moraine Correc­tional Insti­tu­tion repor­ted 431 active cases of Covid-19, the largest outbreak at a Wiscon­sin prison yet. On the same day, the Oshkosh Correc­tional Insti­tu­tion — the most popu­lous prison in the state — repor­ted more than 300 active cases of Covid-19 within its facil­ity. 
  • On Octo­ber 31, the Wiscon­sin Depart­ment of Correc­tions released data for the first time on the number of incar­cer­ated people who have died from Covid-19. At least five people have died from the virus while incar­cer­ated there.
  • On Febru­ary 8, the Wiscon­sin DOC announced that 25 incar­cer­ated people had died of Covid-19 in the state. Currently, there are 45 active cases in Wiscon­sin pris­ons.
  • On Febru­ary 13, Wiscon­sin state offi­cials repor­ted that 10,786 people, more than half of those incar­cer­ated in their state’s prison system, had been infec­ted with Covid-19. Incar­cer­ated people in the state continue to report crowded condi­tions that do not allow for the neces­sary social distan­cing restric­tions to curb the spread of Covid-19.
  • The Racine County Sher­iff’s Office announced on Febru­ary 26 that its jail had been coronavirus-free for 18 days, includ­ing all incar­cer­ate people, staff, contract­ors, and volun­teers.
  • On March 25, a report from the Wiscon­sin Policy Forum determ­ined that the state’s jail popu­la­tion declined by more than a third in 2020. The jail popu­la­tions have increased slightly as vaccin­a­tions become more read­ily avail­able but are still 24% lower than a year ago.
  • As of April 9, 7% of the Wiscon­sin prison popu­la­tion had been vaccin­ated against Covid-19. Incar­cer­ated people were included in the state’s phase 1B of their vaccine rollout plan, and all adults in the state are now eligible to be vaccin­ated. 
  • By May 28, nearly half of all incar­cer­ated people (includ­ing those at juven­ile deten­tion facil­it­ies) in Wiscon­sin had been fully vaccin­ated against Covid-19. The vaccine accept­ance rate among incar­cer­ated people in the state remains higher than the general popu­la­tion. 
  • On June 7, the Wiscon­sin Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced it will resume in-person visit­a­tion begin­ning on July 6. Video visits and two free phone calls a week will still be avail­able until the facil­it­ies return to “pre-pandemic oper­a­tions.” 
  • On June 30, the Wiscon­sin Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced there were zero active Covid-19 cases among its 37 facil­it­ies, includ­ing those for youth. Three active cases remain for staff who are currently quar­ant­in­ing at home.
  • Begin­ning on Decem­ber 6, people incar­cer­ated in Wiscon­sin pris­ons will receive photo­cop­ies of their mail instead of the origin­als. The Depart­ment of Correc­tions states that the change in policy looks to “stop the infilt­ra­tion of paper laced with the drug K2.”
  • On Novem­ber 18, the Mara­thon County Jail in Wausau imple­men­ted stricter Covid-19 proto­cols and a recent outbreak left 27 incar­cer­ated people and three employ­ees infec­ted. The jail is now limit­ing the people it takes in and divert­ing people convicted of lower-level offenses to altern­at­ive forms of super­vi­sion and monit­or­ing.
  • On Janu­ary 6, the Milwau­kee County Jail began full quar­ant­ine for almost the entire facil­ity, as more than 200 people being held there tested posit­ive for Covid-19 at the same time.

Wyom­ing

  • Start­ing the week of July 13, Wyom­ing began test­ing all incar­cer­ated people for Covid-19. Wyom­ing is one of the only two states that has not yet confirmed a posit­ive case among those who are incar­cer­ated, but will still test every­one in their state pris­ons, which is just over 2,000 people.
  • On Septem­ber 7th, the Wyom­ing Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that twice as many Covid-19 cases have been found among the staff as compared to incar­cer­ated people in the state’s pris­ons. While about 65 percent of incar­cer­ated people in the state have been vaccin­ated, only about 35 percent of employ­ees have accep­ted a vaccin­a­tion against Covid-19.
  • On Octo­ber 19, the Wyom­ing Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted an outbreak among five facil­it­ies statewide, noting an increase from 19 to 148 cases in a week. One facil­ity, Wyom­ing Medium Correc­tional, comprised 109 of the 148 cases and attrib­uted the increase to a lack of isol­a­tion space as “dozens of people have been sleep­ing on the floor of the facil­ity’s gym”.
  • On Decem­ber 2, The Wyom­ing Depart­ment of Correc­tions repor­ted its fifth death due to Covid-19 since Novem­ber 1, as well as 77 active cases of Covid-19. WDOC does not track or mandate staff vaccin­a­tion rates but reports that 59% of people incar­cer­ated have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

U.S. Territ­or­ies

  • After a Pentagon report to Congress on August 14, 11 senat­ors publicly expressed concern over the federal govern­ment’s plan to mitig­ate the spread of Covid-19 inside its prison at Guantá­namo Bay, Cuba.
  • On July 19, the Biden Admin­is­tra­tion trans­ferred its first detainee from Guantá­namo Bay, redu­cing the prison popu­la­tion to 39.

Tele­phone and Video Calls

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Correc­tional author­it­ies should make tele­phone and video calls free for the dura­tion of the crisis and, where neces­sary, work with private vendors to achieve this goal.

  • These juris­dic­tions have begun offer­ing free video or phone calls, but they cap the number that can be made: Shelby County, Tenn.; Pennsylvania; Oklahoma (applic­able to some facil­it­ies); and Utah (applic­able to some facil­it­ies).
  • The Minnesota Depart­ment of Correc­tions, as of March 13, plans to use video systems for visit­a­tion at no cost to those behind bars.
  • After suspend­ing in-person visit­a­tion due to Covid-19, Middle­sex County Sher­iff Peter J. Koutoujian is offer­ing four free calls per week to indi­vidu­als who are incar­cer­ated as an interim step while they explore video visit­a­tion and elec­tronic messaging.
  • The South Caro­lina Depart­ment of Correc­tions has given all incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als access to a free call program, includ­ing for those who had lost phone priv­ileges. 
  • The Nevada Depart­ment of Correc­tions is provid­ing eligible incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als up to two free phone calls per week as a way of mitig­at­ing the impact of suspen­ded visits during the Covid-19 pandemic. 
  • Effect­ive April 9, the Federal Bureau of Pris­ons made call­ing and video visit­a­tion free for people incar­cer­ated in BOP facil­it­ies. 
  • Pennsylvania is pilot­ing a new program that allows incar­cer­ated people to have up to one 45-minute video call per week using Zoom, depend­ing on schedul­ing avail­ab­il­ity.
  • Offi­cials at Saginaw Correc­tional Facil­ity in Michigan waived a ban on commu­nic­a­tion between volun­teer teach­ers and incar­cer­ated students so that Delta College profess­ors could instruct their students over email. 
  • In response to visit­a­tion limit­a­tions due to Covid-19, Maine Correc­tional Facil­ity offi­cials recon­figured a prison classroom to hold classes over Zoom using the Inter­net from an admin­is­trat­or’s computer.
  • Three BOP facil­it­ies — in Lompoc and Terminal Island — have suspen­ded incar­cer­ated people’s access to email and phone lines, draw­ing outrage from famil­ies who have not heard from loved ones. 
  • The Flor­ida DOC exten­ded its ban on visit­ors to pris­ons through June 28, which has been in place since March 11, prom­ising two free phone calls per pris­oner each week until July 5.
  • As of June, pre-release program­ming contin­ued in the Montana DOC in groups fewer than 10, util­iz­ing video confer­en­cing when possible.
  • In June, BOP facil­it­ies restric­ted tele­com­mu­nic­a­tion access in response to ongo­ing protests, so some inmates have only been able to commu­nic­ate through the postal system.
  • lawsuit has been brought by pris­on­ers at Prince George’s County Deten­tion Center in Mary­land, who say that the officers, among other fail­ures of hygiene and safety, banned them from making phone calls while quar­ant­ined.
  • A class action suit was filed in Mary­land against three compan­ies (Securus Tech­no­lo­gies and Global Tel*Link Corp, and 3Cin­ter­act­ive Corp.) that facil­it­ate collect calls made from US jails and pris­ons. They have allegedly colluded to inflate the cost of such calls for a decade. Although Securus has offered some free call cred­its to those incar­cer­ated, this infla­tion has contin­ued through­out the pandemic, with Securus and GTL pock­et­ing much of the call costs.
  • Despite wide­spread limits to their commu­nic­a­tions, many people who are currently incar­cer­ated have been shar­ing their daily exper­i­ences, as well as complaints about jail and prison condi­tions, on TikTok, a video stream­ing app. Although cell­phones are gener­ally contra­band, some accounts have amassed hundreds of thou­sands of follow­ers, and provided crucial inform­a­tion about poor health condi­tions in pris­ons during the pandemic.
  • On July 23, the Michigan DOC announced that it will be launch­ing video calls at seven of its 29 pris­ons, after the comple­tion of neces­sary WiFi infra­struc­ture updates that may take three or more months. Global Tel Link will provide the video calls for 16 cents a minute, which is the same rate for phone calls.
  • This July, incar­cer­ated people and their famil­ies are advoc­at­ing for provi­sions in the coming stim­u­lus bill that cap the costs of prison phone calls. This would be in addi­tion to the US House’s passage of the Martha Wright Phone Justice Act in May, which would give the FCC author­ity to regu­late all prison and jail calls. The FCC does not yet have the power to set caps for about 80% of those calls.
  • Cali­for­nia Assembly­mem­ber Sydney Kamla­ger is advoc­at­ing for the expan­sion of cell phone avail­ab­il­ity in Cali­for­nia state pris­ons. In a video for The Appeal on July 22, she explained that cell­phones would stream­line neces­sary legal commu­nic­a­tions, help main­tain the mental health of incar­cer­ated people, and reduce prohib­it­ive phone call costs for their loved ones.
  • Senate demo­crats are push­ing to include a provi­sion in the next relief pack­age that would provide access to free phone and video calls for people incar­cer­ated in federal pris­ons, due to concerns about afford­ab­il­ity for the famil­ies of those incar­cer­ated.
  • During the first week of August, Arizona exten­ded its suspen­sion of in-person visit­a­tions through Septem­ber 13. People with visit­a­tion priv­ileges will still be eligible for two free 15-minute phone calls and a free 15-minute video visit each week.
  • A bill pending in the Massachu­setts legis­lature this August seeks to make phone services provided to people in DOC facil­it­ies and county houses free of cost.
  • In early August, the FCC adop­ted a new rule to reduce rate caps for inter­state prison calls and regu­late the costs of ancil­lary fees for all calls, but intrastate calls remain out of the FCC’s juris­dic­tion.
  • Accord­ing to the Prison Policy Initi­at­ive, many juris­dic­tions have rolled back access to free commu­nic­a­tion services. Middle­sex County, Massachu­setts stopped offer­ing free phone calls in Septem­ber. Delaware ended its free call­ing offer in August; Vermont ended free video calls in June. “Cali­for­nia, which in April offered three ‘free call­ing days’ per week, has reduced its offer­ing to two days per month. Pennsylvania has reduced its offer from five free phone calls a week to just one.”
  • On June 16, Connecti­cut Governor Ned Lamont signed a bill, making phone calls free for incar­cer­ated people and their loved ones. The bill will go into effect on Octo­ber 1, 2022, for juven­ile facil­it­ies and Octo­ber 22, 2022, for adult facil­it­ies. Connecti­cut is the first state to make phone calls free for incar­cer­ated people.

Hygiene and Access to Health­care

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Correc­tional author­it­ies should further waive commis­sary fees for soap, toilet paper, and other hygienic essen­tials for the dura­tion of the crisis.

  • Accord­ing to the Prison Policy Initi­at­ive, only two states have not suspen­ded medical co-pays for people in state pris­ons: Nevada and Hawaii. 
  • In Pennsylvania, the Depart­ment of Correc­tions increased produc­tion of anti­bac­terial soap to ensure broad access through­out its insti­tu­tions. The soap is being provided free of charge to imprisoned people. Medical co-pays have also been waived for imprisoned people present­ing with an influ­enza-like illness.
  • Arizon­a’s Depart­ment of Correc­tions began waiv­ing medical co-pays for imprisoned people with cold and flu symp­toms, and it has made soap avail­able for free.
  • As of March 20, the Minnesota Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced it would waive medical co-pays for imprisoned people indef­in­itely. Extra bars of soap will also be sent to each facil­ity. “The agency is commit­ted to ensur­ing that indi­vidual economic concerns do not limit an inmate’s will­ing­ness to seek medical care,” accord­ing to the release.
  • The ACLU-DC and the DC Public Defend­er’s Office brought a class-action lawsuit against the DC Depart­ment of Correc­tions (which includes the D.C. Jail and the Correc­tional Treat­ment Facil­ity). The lawsuit alleges that the DOC has not adequately screened or tested inmates for Covid-19, and that it has not done enough to prevent the virus from spread­ing. The DC correc­tions work­ers union backed the lawsuit, saying that offi­cials were “guar­an­tee­ing and accel­er­at­ing the rampant spread of Covid-19” by provid­ing no masks, gowns, disin­fect­ants or compre­hens­ive screen­ing and that “the Jail is the lowest prior­ity among the health and safety community.” A federal judge heard the lawsuit on Tues­day, April 7. On April 13, Deon Crow­ell became the first person incar­cer­ated in the DC Jail to die from Covid-19. He was 51. 
  • On April 16, a federal judge in Hous­ton ordered the Texas Depart­ment of Crim­inal Justice to provide people incar­cer­ated at one Texas prison with hand sanit­izer, masks and unres­tric­ted access to soap. The order came after the death of an incar­cer­ated indi­vidual who’d tested posit­ive for Covid-19. On April 17, TDCJ appealed the ruling in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and asked Judge Ellison to pause his order pending the appeal. The judge gran­ted a five-day stay — putting the ruling into effect on April 22 — while he “writes up a more detailed memor­andum on the factual and legal basis for his order.” On Septem­ber 29, he issued a perman­ent injunc­tion for the plaintiffs.
  • Alabama prison offi­cials are requir­ing incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als to sign a consent form before giving them masks that could help fight Covid-19. Advoc­ates and medical experts have criti­cized the decision, arguing that PPE should be given “with no strings attached.”
  • On April 24, a coali­tion of activ­ists in Los Angeles called Covid-19 Rapid Response, as well as a number of incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als, sued Los Angeles County and the L.A. County sher­iff, citing a fail­ure to safe­guard the health of incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als. They are demand­ing that the L.A. County sher­iff imple­ment consti­tu­tion­ally mandated proced­ures to protect incar­cer­ated people from contract­ing Covid-19 and to comply with guidelines issued by the CDC and the CA Depart­ment of Public Health. 
  • On May 1, Gov. Murphy announced that the New Jersey DOC would begin univer­sal COVID-19 test­ing for incar­cer­ated people and correc­tions staff. 
  • On May 3, incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als on death row at a Texas prison asked to join a lawsuit, filed by the Texas Inno­cence Network, against the Texas Depart­ment of Crim­inal Justice, claim­ing health and safety concerns put them at risk of contract­ing Covid-19.
  • In early May, the Arkan­sas DOC housed Covid-negat­ive pris­on­ers in hold­ing cells without access to toilets or showers, which resul­ted in inmates urin­at­ing and defec­at­ing on cell floors, and wash­ing them­selves with hoses.
  • On May 14, the Supreme Court denied a request from two incar­cer­ated people in a Texas geri­at­ric prison to rein­state a trial judge’s order instruct­ing TDCJ offi­cials to take steps to protect them from Covid-19. Justice Sonia Soto­mayor and Justice Ruth Bader Gins­burg issued a seven-page state­ment express­ing concern about condi­tions in prison and jails around the coun­try, and about the risks facing incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als who are exposed to Covid-19.
  • Incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als at the Cali­for­nia Insti­tu­tion for Men in Chino — home of the dead­li­est Covid-19 outbreak in the state’s pris­ons — were not tested for the virus for weeks before nearly 200 were trans­ferred by bus to other facil­it­ies on June 8, includ­ing one in the Bay Area.
  • Despite mass releases gran­ted by Gov. Newsom, incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als in Cali­for­nia noted that they have not had access to food, water, or basic medical care while quar­ant­ined, and have been discip­lined for wear­ing face cover­ings and trying to sanit­ize their surround­ings.
  • In Connecti­cut, prison health­care work­ers began strik­ing as on June 15, protest­ing the under­staff­ing that they say is due to poor bene­fits and incent­ives. Staff is being augmen­ted by work agency nurses, who accord­ing to correc­tions staff have not been suffi­ciently trained in prison safety and secur­ity.
  • The Arizona Depart­ment of Correc­tions, Rehab­il­it­a­tion and Reentry issued a depart­ment-wide direct­ive on June 19, requir­ing correc­tional officers to wear face masks.
  • After Covid-19 cases tripled at San Quentin, organ­izers began call­ing on offi­cials to expand job assign­ments so that incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als can afford to buy hygiene products from the prison commis­sary.
  • After Covid-19 cases jumped in Missouri state pris­ons, women incar­cer­ated at the Chil­li­cothe Correc­tional Center have expressed concerns that the lax mask policies for guards may be help­ing spread the virus. It has been repor­ted that most of the guards do not wear masks, and there are no Depart­ment of Correc­tions rules requir­ing that they do wear them outside of quar­ant­ine areas. (July 15)
  • In a letter to the state health depart­ment on July 20, a top health offi­cial in Cali­for­nia revealed that state contract­ors for the CDCR have allowed infec­ted nurses to trans­mit Covid-19 by not using PPE and improp­erly monit­or­ing them­selves for signs of infec­tion. There is also evid­ence that nurses improp­erly swabbed incar­cer­ated people being tested, and did not change their gloves between tests. 
  • Arkan­sas Gov. Asa Hutchin­son addressed Arkansas’ spike in Covid-19 cases on July 29, attrib­ut­ing the high per capita infec­tion rate in the Arkan­sas prison system to the state’s prac­tice of mass test­ing. People incar­cer­ated in Arkan­sas are infec­ted at a rate 1,715% higher than the rest of the state.
  • A suit filed against the Baltimore County Deten­tion Center in July alleges that people incar­cer­ated there were denied Covid-19 test­ing, and that some were forced to remain in their cells after raw sewage leaked and over­flowed into their cell­b­lock. The suit also alleges that the deten­tion center has not been provid­ing proper food or exer­cise oppor­tun­it­ies to people incar­cer­ated there during the pandemic.
  • Famil­ies of people incar­cer­ated in Geor­gi­a’s state pris­ons alleged in August that prison condi­tions continue to be deplor­able, as there is appar­ently little access to nutri­tious food, running water, or proper hygiene. These alleg­a­tions come days after an alleged riot protest­ing these condi­tions took place at Ware State Prison in Geor­gia.
  • The Correc­tional Medical Author­ity that over­sees care in Flor­id­a’s prison system has stopped all in-person visits because of the pandemic.
  • On Septem­ber 3, activ­ists and family members began protest­ing outside the Eddie Warrior women’s facil­ity in Tulsa, Oklahoma in response to the Covid-19 outbreak there. The group is call­ing for more support for the 700 women there who have tested posit­ive, as well as expan­ded access to medical care for those who are not yet infec­ted—but whose expos­ure feels immin­ent due to the current stand­ards of care inside the facil­ity.
  • In an inter­view published on Decem­ber 3, aging-in-pris­ons expert Stephanie Prost explains that “even before the arrival of Covid-19, medical care in U.S. pris­ons and jails has been typic­ally inad­equate, often border­ing on life-threat­en­ing.” But the pandemic has exacer­bated these issues, as older popu­la­tions are more suscept­ible to the virus and pris­ons are partic­u­larly unable to care for or protect against its spread.
  • In a follow-up to its survey of medical co-pay policies during the pandemic, the Prison Policy Initi­at­ive discovered in Decem­ber that three states have made their policies more restrict­ive in the midst of the pandemic: “Arkan­sas, Idaho, and Minnesota had previ­ously suspen­ded all co-pays as of March, but have since rein­stated co-pays for non-flu-like symp­toms. They are now among 29 states that currently suspend co-pays only for visits involving respir­at­ory, flu-related, or COVID-19 symp­toms — a policy that discour­ages many from seek­ing treat­ment. Even worse, Nevada has contin­ued to charge co-pays through­out the pandemic, regard­less of symp­toms.”
  • In the same survey, the Prison Policy Initi­at­ive found that three states have improved their policies during the pandemic, as New Jersey suspen­ded all medical co-pays while Delaware and Hawaii suspen­ded co-pays for those with flu-like symp­toms.
  • On July 1, the Marshall Project repor­ted that multiple top Federal Bureau of Pris­ons offi­cials had no hands-on health care exper­i­ence and, in some instances, no formal medical educa­tion. 
  • Also on July 1, the New Jersey Depart­ment of Correc­tions began hous­ing folks based on their gender iden­tity, provid­ing greater protec­tions for incar­cer­ated trans­gender, inter­sex, and nonbin­ary people.
  • From 2001 to 2018, the number of people who died from drug over­doses or alco­hol intox­ic­a­tion in state pris­ons increased by more than 600% and in county jails by more than 200%.
  • In the Spring of 2021, a judge ruled that the health­care at the Louisi­ana State Penit­en­tiary viol­ated incar­cer­ated people’s Eighth Amend­ment rights. Lois Ratliff told the story of her son Ferrell’s death through the Marshall Project.
  • On July 22, the Marshall Project repor­ted that incar­cer­ated people in Michigan are wait­ing months, some­times years, to access dental care.
  • Under the Healthy Start Act, preg­nant women in Minnesota’s pris­ons will be allowed to serve their sentences in community altern­at­ives, such as halfway houses or addic­tion rehab­il­it­a­tion centers, keep­ing moth­ers with their babies.

Community Super­vi­sion

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Juris­dic­tions should imple­ment altern­at­ive meth­ods — such as video or tele­phone — for people released on some form of community super­vi­sion to stay in touch with their super­vising officer and waive the need for in-person meet­ings except in extraordin­ary cases.

  • A state­ment signed by dozens of “proba­tion and parole exec­ut­ives and asso­ci­ations” called for super­vi­sion depart­ments to forego report­ing alto­gether for those who pose a lower risk or to have people report via tele­phone, online, or via post­card. They also recom­men­ded suspend­ing or severely limit­ing the use of tech­nical viol­a­tions for the dura­tion of the coronavirus crisis.
  • The Arkan­sas Depart­ment of Correc­tions suspen­ded face-to-face office meet­ings for 21 days, with few indi­vidu­als still required to check-in by phone. It also waived user fees for the month of April, citing increas­ing unem­ploy­ment.
  • The Rhode Island Depart­ment of Correc­tions announced that proba­tion and parole offices will not hold in-person check-ins.
  • Gwen Levi, 76, who was released from prison because of the pandemic, was sent back to prison for miss­ing phone calls from her super­vi­sion officer; when her officer called, she was in her computer word-processing class. On July 6, a judge ordered her imme­di­ate re-release.
  • Early data shows that elec­tronic ankle monit­or­ing and house arrest rose nation­wide during the pandemic. In Chicago for example, the Cook County Sher­iff Office’s use of ankle monit­or­ing for adults await­ing trial increased from 2,600 in April 2020 to over 3,500 in Decem­ber 2020.

Addi­tional Resources

  • For more on how Covid-19 is impact­ing incar­cer­ated people, correc­tional officers and other person­nel, see this resource from UCLA Law.
  • For state-specific inform­a­tion on clem­ency and the reprieve power, see this resource from NYU Law’s Center on the Admin­is­tra­tion of Crim­inal Law. 
  • For more on Covid-19 infec­tion rates in juven­ile facil­it­ies, see this resource from the Senten­cing Project. 
  • For inform­a­tion on each state’s plan to vaccin­ate incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als, see these resources from the Prison Policy Initi­at­ive and COVID Pris­ons Project.