Report Gives Prisons Failing Grades For COVID-19 Response

Report Gives Prisons Failing Grades For COVID-19 Response

If you’ve paid any attention to COVID-19 in prisons, you know that the deadly virus has overwhelmed facilities across the country for more than a year. By now, it’s likely that more than 3,000 prisoners have died from COVID-19. And reporting suggests that one out of every three incarcerated people have had COVID-19. It’s truly unbelievable how bad the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been in prisons. A new report from Prison Policy Initiative gives that response a grade we should have all known was coming: F.

Prison Policy Initiative gave almost every state in the country an F.

In the report, Prison Policy Initiative gave 42 states—an incredible 84% of the country—an F for their response to COVID-19 in prisons. Of the eight states that didn’t get an F—California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Virginia—six received either a D or a D-. The only two that did better than a D, California and New Jersey, earned a C- and C, respectively.

If my nine-year-old came home with grades like this, the consequences would be severe. The consequences for prison officials, though, are seemingly nonexistent. And documents obtained by the ACLU show that things may even get worse before they get better.

Even the states with the best grades didn’t do enough.

New Jersey’s response was the highest-rated one in the country. The most significant factor in this “high”—remember, it was just a C—was the vaccination rate among incarcerated people. According to the report, 89% of incarcerated people in New Jersey got the COVID-19 vaccine. That incarceration rate is significantly better than the general U.S. population. It is noteworthy, of course, that the credit for this success goes entirely to the incarcerated people themselves, not prison officials.

But New Jersey officials do deserve some credit for reducing the state’s prison population by 42% during the COVID-19 pandemic. A significant portion of the population reduction was the product of a large-scale release that allowed over 2,000 people to leave prison and return home.

California was almost as successful. Their C- grade was due, at least in part, to their vaccination efforts. But it was the product of free phone calls, free video calls and free hygiene products to incarcerated people. These measures aren’t excessive to the say the least. Yet, almost all of the states in the country couldn’t implement them, and people died and got sick as a result.

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