Throughout the pandemic, prisons have been a hotspot for COVID-19, with case rates in prisons between four to five times higher than in the general population. Despite being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, however, most states did not prioritize incarcerated people in their vaccination plans. As a result, seven months since the first vaccines were distributed, just 55% of people in prison have been vaccinated, leaving them vulnerable to infection.

Using data from the UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, The Marshall Project/AP, and other state-specific sources, we calculated the current rate of vaccinations among incarcerated people in 48 state prison systems and the federal Bureau of Prisons. For our measure of vaccination, we counted anyone who had received at least one dose of a vaccine as of May 14, 2021. Our findings are disheartening:

  • In 17 state prison systems and the Bureau of Prisons, less than half of incarcerated people have received a vaccine.
  • Vaccination rates are the worst in Utah, South Carolina, and Alabama where 20% or less of the prison population has received the first dose of a vaccine.
  • And two states – Florida and Wyoming – have not released any vaccination information at all. Their lack of transparency makes it impossible to hold these Departments of Corrections accountable and ensure they are doing all they can to limit the spread of the virus.

As we recently reported, many states prioritized correctional staff for early vaccine access, under the misguided assumption that a fully-vaccinated staff would act as a preventative “barrier” between incarcerated people and the communities surrounding prisons. With many correctional staff refusing to be vaccinated, the median staff vaccination rate across the country was still just 48% at last count. To meaningfully protect people in prison, incarcerated people need to be vaccinated at much higher rates than we’re seeing thus far.

Read the full article about vaccination for incarcerated people by Tiana Herring and Emily Widra at Prison Policy Initiative.