The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ August 2022 report Impact of COVID-19 on State and Federal Prisons, March 2020-February 2021 examines an inventory of measures each state prison system took to mitigate COVID-19, ranging from policies to reduce prison populations to efforts to provide vaccines and hand sanitizer to incarcerated people. The data reinforces what we already know about correctional settings during the pandemic: although crowded living spaces like prisons are generally hotspots for infection transmission, only some departments of corrections followed guidance from medical professionals, public health officials, and the CDC, while others ignored even the most basic recommendations. Below, we summarize the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ findings about state responses to various mitigation tactics and compile key findings about slowing prison admissions, increasing prison releases, testing for the virus, altering housing placements to prevent spread, and providing face masks.

Key findings from Impact of COVID-19 on State and Federal Prisons, March 2020-February 2021:

  • Some prison systems significantly reduced the number of people entering prison, but a handful quickly returned to admitting large numbers of people, even more than the number admitted in January 2020, before the pandemic.
  • 21 state prison systems and the federal Bureau of Prisons reported no policies to expedite releases during the pandemic, and among the 28 states that did have such policies, four of them did not actually release anyone under their expedited release policies.
  • Two state prison systems – California and Michigan – were responsible for an outsized portion (38%) of all COVID-19 tests in state prisons (in February 2020, these two states held a combined total of 14% of the country’s state prison populations).
  • The implementation of COVID-19 mitigation efforts – like expanded testing, provision of hand sanitizer, and daily temperature checks – was inconsistent across state prison systems.
  • Many states failed to prioritize vaccination of incarcerated people and correctional staff. At the time of the February 2021 survey date, some states had not yet provided the vaccine to the prison system, and some state prison systems had access to the vaccine for weeks but had distributed none of it.

Read the full article about COVID-19 mitigation in prisons by Emily Widra at Prison Policy Initiative.