Giving Compass' Take:

• At Prison Policy Initiative, Emily Widra analyzes data and graphs on the prison population during COVID-19, which has risen drastically in recent months.

• Why has the prison population during COVID-19 seen such great fluctuation? How can we monitor the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and ensure safety for inmates as the virus continues its presence?

• Learn about one way to limit the prison population during COVID-19 to keep inmates safe from infection.

After the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, it became painfully obvious that people incarcerated in jails and prisons would be uniquely vulnerable to both the spread of the disease and the more serious medical consequences of the disease due to the high prevalence of preexisting health conditions.

Now, when all of the top 10 clusters of COVID-19 in the U.S. are linked to prisons and jails, and with the 997 COVID-19 deaths behind bars surpassing the number of COVID-19 deaths in 19 states and Washington, D.C., state and local governments should be redoubling their efforts to reduce the number of people in confinement. But our most recent analysis of jail and prison populations shows that many of the efforts to reduce incarcerated and detained populations have actually slowed–and even reversed in many counties and states.

Jail populations dropped quickly at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the local authorities who run jails have not sustained those efforts and populations have started to rise over the last two months.

Prisons and jails are notoriously dangerous places during a viral outbreak, and continue to be the source of the largest number of infections in the U.S. The COVID-19 death rate in prisons is three times higher than among the general U.S. population, even when adjusted for age and sex (as the prison population is disproportionately young and male). Despite agreement among public health professionals, corrections officials, and criminal justice reform advocates that decarceration will protect incarcerated people and the community-at-large from COVID-19, state, federal, and local authorities continue to put incarcerated people’s lives at risk– and by extension, the communities in which incarcerated people and correctional staff live and work.

Read the full article about the prison population during COVID-19 by Emily Widra at Prison Policy Initiative.