by Ed Lyon
Early in 2020, health and penology experts warned that prisons would become hot spots for COVID-19 contagion, primarily because of overcrowding that effectively prevents the ability to socially distance among many other factors. Some prison systems have managed to do better than others in mitigation measures, limiting contagion and lessening death tolls.
On April 1, 2021 the Council on Criminal Justice released a study completed on data from February 16, 2021 examining possible causes. The data sets were compiled by The Marshall Project and Associated Press. The statistical universe consisted of 32 states divided into 2 median subsets. All facts and figures refer to these 32 states only.
The 15 states above the median prison-to-state COVID-19 death ratio performed the worst and were not named. The 17 states below the median that performed the best are Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Of those 17 states, the prison systems in Colorado, Connecticut, Michigan and Vermont were set apart for overview.
Despite inferences that may be reached by data presentations throughout the study, it was pointed out “to note that such patterns do not necessarily represent causal relationships” that “may indicate a protective effect of [COVID-19] testing.” This caution is proffered even though the study is about the influences prisoner testing had on prison systems’ reactions to test results.
COVID-19 cases for prisoners were 350 per 1,000 tested and 82 per 1,000 state-wide while prisoner fatalities were 1.9 per 1,000 with 0.6 state-wide. Testing for prisoners were 4,919 per 1,000 prisoners and 1,133 per 1,000 state-wide while prisoner positivity rates were 11.3 confirmed cases per 1,000 tests with 8.9 confirmed cases to tests state-wide. The state death rate was adapted to make it suitably match the age, sex and race of the prison systems’ population.
By percentage and ratio: 1 out of 3 tested prisoners, or 33 percent, tested positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic. This is better than 4 times the state-wide rate of contagion. Prisoners died from COVID-19 at numbers better than 3 times the state-wide
rates of fatalities.
The lower median 17 prison systems performed as many as 10 COVID-19 tests or more per prisoner. The earlier, more aggressive testing programs in these systems were likely to have contributed a death rate half that experienced in the upper median 15 prison systems. For prisoners in the upper median the death rate was 8 times higher than the state-wide rate.
Colorado’s population is 5,758,736 with a prison census of 20,000, or .34 percent. Testing began during the last third of April 2020. By February 16, 2021; 10,554 tests per 1,000 prisoners had been administered. There was an overall .05 percent positivity rate with 1.8 deaths per 1,000 prisoners compared to 1.03 deaths state-wide for a 3.47 prison-to-state death ratio.
Connecticut’s population is 3,565,287 with a prison census of 9,000, or .25 percent. Testing began in March 2020 and increased with test kit availability. By February 16, 2021; 6,283 tests per 1,000 prisoners had been administered. There was an overall .06 percent positivity rate with 1.87 deaths per 1,000 prisoners compared to 2.11 deaths state-wide for a 2.02 prison-to-state death ratio.
Michigan’s population is 9,986,857 with a prison census of 40,000, or .40 percent. Testing began in March 2020. By February 16, 2021; 14,378 tests per 1,000 prisoners had been administered. There was an overall .05 percent positivity rate with 3.89 deaths per 1,000 prisoners compared to 1.63 deaths state-wide for a 3.49 prison-to-state death ratio.
Vermont’s population is 623,989 with a prison census of 1,250, or .20 percent. Testing began in May 2020. By February 16, 2021; 10,063 tests per 1,000 prisoners had been administered. There was an overall .02 percent positivity rate with no prisoner deaths
compared to .31 deaths per 1,000 free citizens state-wide for a zero prison-to-state death ratio.
The study’s disclaimer notwithstanding, facts show the lower median prison systems that began early testing and tested often were able to effect aggressive mitigation measures, limit COVID-19 contagion and lessen the death toll within its populations.
Sources: cdn.ymaws.com, covid19counciloncj.org
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