COVID Testing within Prisons

As of June 23rd, 12 states have yet to report any testing information within their correctional institutions. These data are critical for understanding the prevalence of COVID. For instance, if states are testing very few inmates, we cannot know the true prevalence of COVID within these facilities.

At the same time, many states have started mass testing, with Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin having administered more than 500 COVID tests per 1,000 inmates. In these states, testing prevalence surpasses that of the general population. However, these states claim to have expanded testing to all inmates, which has yet to happen and has been slow to scale up. States that have experienced outbreaks, such as Ohio, have expanded mass testing in certain facilities but not systematically throughout the state, resulting in lower testing prevalence overall than their counterparts.

Many prison systems, even those that have not engaged in mass testing, have a testing prevalence per 1,000 that exceeds that of the general population. However, there remains a need to continue to increase testing given that communal living sites are the epicenter of the pandemic and multiple prisons across the country have experienced outbreaks. In particular, 11 prison systems that have released testing information are testing fewer inmates per 1,000 than their state is testing in their general population. For example, Hawaii has tested only 16 of its inmates, resulting in a testing prevalence of 3.76/1,000.

As the pandemic continues, there is a dire need to increase testing in correctional facilities, as it is the only way to detect cases and prevent further spread.

COVID Case Watch June 3, 2020

This graph shows the confirmed positive COVID-19 rate per 1,000 individuals in the prison population and the general population for each state as of June 3rd, 2020. The left side of the graph (orange) refers to the prison population and the right side of the graph (blue) refers to the general population. The rates calculated here use new state prison population data from the Vera Institute of Justice which better adjusts for COVID-19 related releases.

The confirmed positive COVID-19 case rate has increased in the prison population in more than half of states since last week, with the largest increases in Michigan (increase of 76 per 1,000), New Jersey (increase of 36 per 1,000), and Texas (increase of 20 per 1,000).

The confirmed case rate in the prison population is now above 100 in three states (Michigan, New Jersey, and Tennessee) and approaching 100 in two more (Ohio and Kansas). In fact, the confirmed COVID-19 case rate is around 30x greater in the prison population than the general population in the states of Ohio, Tennessee, and Michigan.

COVID Case Watch May 27, 2020

This graph shows the confirmed positive COVID-19 rate per 1,000 individuals in the prison population and the general population for each state as of May 27th, 2020. The left side of the graph (orange) refers to the prison population and the right side of the graph (blue) refers to the general population.

In the last two weeks, confirmed case rates in the prison population increased in nearly all states. The largest increase in the confirmed case rate among the prison population occurred in New Jersey where there was a 300% increase (from 19 per 1,000 to 77 per 1,000). Other states with large increases in the confirmed case rate among the prison population are Tennessee (increase of 40 per 1,000), Michigan (increase of 30 per 1,000), Connecticut (increase of 23 per 1,000), Texas and Kansas (increase of 13 per 1,000), and West Virginia (increase of 12 per 1,000). The states with the highest confirmed positive rate in the prison population are Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, and Kansas.

COVID-19 Case Watch: Preliminary Data from Jails

In counties with some of the largest jails, the COVID-19 infection rate in jails is between 3.5 and 73.1 times higher than the overall county infection rate. Cook County Jail has the highest infection rate; however, Bexar County has the largest disparity between the jail and the county overall. The infection rate in Bexar County Jail is 7.24%, which is 73.1 times higher than the 0.10% infection rate for Bexar County overall. Similar to prisons, infection rates in jails are dependent on testing. For example, Harris County Jail in Houston, TX has engaged in widespread testing.

Methods: While we are not systematically tracking COVID-19 cases in jails yet, we conducted this preliminary analysis. The raw data are provided in Table 1. The Vera Institute of Justice has been monitoring jail populations during COVID-19. We used their daily population counts for the denominator. The numerator data come from either government sources or media sources. The links for each report are provided in the table. The community infection rates are from The New York Times (data from May 11, 2020 8:10am ET).