Written by Jennifer Lao and Forrest Behne
The data collected by the COVID Prison Project comes primarily from publicly available information generated by departments of correction. For much of the pandemic, these data were available on COVID dashboards or otherwise collated from reports on departmental websites. That is no longer the case in many systems.
The following departments of correction have decreased the frequency of reports, reduced the amount and variety of data provided, or ceased publication of COVID data outright. States in bold represent systems from which no current data is available.
- Alaska – provides monthly updates only
- California – stopped reporting staff data on 6/15
- Florida – stopped reporting new data on 6/2
- Georgia – stopped daily collection of data on 7/19
- Louisiana – stopped reporting all but current positive cases
- Massachusetts – final update will be August 15
- Montana – last updated on 6/25 despite announcements of a bi-weekly reporting structure
- New Jersey – last daily update provided on 5/26 and last update on any data occurred on 6/18
- Puerto Rico – last updated in December
Some systems have summarily cancelled data releases, while others are engaged in a draw-down of publication efforts. Massachusetts, for instance, published a “snapshot report” on July 15th and plans to release only one more dataset on August 15th. The change, owing to a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court order, requires only the distribution of the total corrections population and the number of “actively COVID-19 positive” individuals.
New York Times, July 15, 2021
Daily trends in COVID-19 cases in the United States reported to CDC and 7-day moving average (CDC)
Departments of correction have sufficiently demonstrated the capability of generating and publishing public health information over the past year. These data are vital to efforts to mitigate the spread of a deadly, communicable disease both within the correctional ecosystem and in the communities that surround them. As rates of infection, hospitalization, and death rise in many parts of the country, it is essential that public health efforts receive the fullest possible support from local, state, and federal governments. This begins by providing sufficient information on disease transmission and health outcomes.
Among the many challenges faced by criminal-justice stakeholders is that, during the pandemic, facility access by independent observers—such as attorneys, volunteers, and non-essential staff—has been necessarily limited. With restrictions on access still in place in many parts of the country, the onus remains on corrections officials to generate and distribute these and other data.