Lawmakers introduce bill to improve documentation of COVID-19 cases in prisons

August 11, 2020
In The News

Legislation that would require the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the United States Marshals Service (USMS), and state governments to collect and report data about COVID-19 in correctional facilities was introduced in Congress.

Prisons and jails have become hotspots for the spread of COVID-19, as the 10 largest “clusters” of cases in the United States are at correctional facilities. However, lawmakers say there is a lack of publicly-available data from the BOP, the USMS, and state and local governments about the spread and management of COVID-19 in correctional facilities.

This bill, the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, would require the BOP, USMS, and state and local correctional facilities to submit the following data to the CDC weekly basis and regularly publish it on their websites — numbers of incarcerated individuals and correctional staff who have been tested for COVID-19 and the results of COVID-19 tests, including the numbers of confirmed negative tests, confirmed active cases, and numbers of people who were hospitalized, recovered, placed in quarantine or died from COVID-19.

The bill was sponsored by U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), and Robin Kelly (D-IL).

“The top ten COVID-19 hotspots in the country are in jails and prisons, yet there is little transparency about the response to outbreaks. This legislation would provide for key information for coordinating responses to COVID-19-including decarceration, prevention, and treatment for those living and working in jails and prisons. It also would help us to understand the extent of disparities in the virus’s spread and impact by requiring facilities to report data on race, ethnicity, sex, age, and other demographics. Without transparency and immediate action from federal and local governments, thousands of people behind bars and in surrounding communities remain at risk,” Vera Institute of Justice President Nicholas Turner said.

The legislation was co-sponsored by Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

“Accurate and timely data about the impact of COVID-19 on incarcerated populations will help government officials better confront the exploding public health crisis behind bars. Enactment of the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act would expose the dangers facing those in prisons and jails from COVID-19 nationwide, and hopefully motivate better management and oversight practices in carceral settings during this crisis,” Kara Gotsch, director of strategic initiatives at The Sentencing Project, said.