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Articles by Brie Zeltner

Why Did 77 Ohio Prisoners Die of COVID-19, but Just 10 in Pennsylvania?

A look at how overcrowding and poor design contributed to two of the worst national outbreaks

by Cid Standifer and Brie Zeltner, Eye on Ohio, Aug. 21, 2020

This article was provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism. Please join our free mailing list as this helps us provide more public service reporting.

For the first two months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., Ohio’s response set an example. Thanks to an early shutdown order, the state’s per-capita deaths from the virus as of late April were less than half of those in neighboring Pennsylvania, a state with similar demographics.

But inside the two states’ prison systems, it was a different story.

By late April, the death rate from COVID-19 in Ohio prisons was 22 per 100,000, a rate more than 4 ½ times the overall Ohio rate and nearly twice the national rate.

As of August 14, there have been 77 inmate deaths known to be caused by COVID-19, and another 10 suspected— a rate of 160 deaths per 100,000 people. Ohio’s prisons have incubated two of the four largest COVID outbreaks in the nation.

In Pennsylvania’s prison system, which houses about 44,000 ...