There have been many calls to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations among incarcerated populations given their high and disproportionate risk of COVID-19 infection and death. Despite this, few systems are reporting vaccination data and the majority of systems reporting data have vaccinated their incarcerated population at a far lower rate than the general population. Critically, vaccination is not a panacea in carceral settings given, among other things, COVID-19’s high reproduction number in these settings. Prisons and jails must prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations alongside social distancing measures and decarceration.
As of April 5, 2021, 14 states (AK, CA, CO, CT, DE, ID, MA, MD, NC, NH, TN, VA, WI) had reported vaccination numbers for their incarcerated population, which are illustrated below. The rate that has received at least one vaccine in prisons ranges from 2,998 per 100,000 (3%) in WI to 59,925 per 100,000 (60%) in MA. In nine of the states reporting data (CT, DE, ID, MD, MN, NC, NH, TN, WI) the vaccination rate in the general population exceeds that of the prison population. ID, MD, NC, and WI have vaccinated their incarcerated population at less than 0.15 times the rate of their general population. Similarly, DE and NH have vaccinated their incarcerated population around 0.35 times the rate of the general population. However, AK, CA, CO, MA, and VA have vaccinated their incarcerated populations at a higher rate than the general population with AK having vaccinated their incarcerated population at 1.69 times the rate of their general population. AK has vaccinated 60% of its incarcerated population and 35% of its general population.
We report the share of the total population that has received at least one vaccine dose. While an important public health metric, this does not equal the share that are fully vaccinated if the vaccine requires two doses. As states vary in the type of vaccines administered in prisons, the rate of the incarcerated population that is fully vaccinated varies across states. It is also possible that states’ rate of full vaccination varies between their general and incarcerated populations.
Another important aspect of vaccinations is the prioritization of vaccinations in prisons, which varies widely by state. Seven states reporting vaccination data (AK, CT, DE, MA, MD, NC, VA) prioritized incarcerated populations in Phase 1 whereas the remaining three states (CO, ID, NH) did not include incarcerated populations in their vaccination plans. The four states reporting a higher rate of vaccination among incarcerated than general populations all prioritized incarcerated populations in Phase 1.
Lastly, vaccine hesitancy and the speed of vaccination distribution within carceral settings deserve attention. Staff members in prisons have reported high vaccine hesitancy. Additionally, structural racism and the historically unethical treatment of incarcerated persons by our nation’s public health and medical systems contribute to vaccine hesitancy among incarcerated individuals.
All data reported here comes from official dashboards reported by Departments of Correction. The COVID Prison Project also analyzes media reports to track vaccination plans for states that are not reporting public vaccination counts. Both data sets are available through our website, here.