COVID Source callout: Federal Bureau of Prisons

For the past year, nonprofit news organization The Marshall Project has tracked COVID-19 cases in prisons, in collaboration with The Associated Press. The tracking effort has primarily focused on compiling numbers from state and federal prison bureaus, through a weekly tally that compares total cases reported by these agencies to their previous totals.

This week, though, the Federal Bureau of Prisons started excluding a lot of prisoners from their count. The bureau is removing cases of any prisoner who gets released from their overall COVID-19 case total—and they aren’t reporting any data on those formerly incarcerated individuals who tested positive while in prison.

For more detail, see this thread from The Marshall Project’s Twitter account:

“We continue to pursue this information about the number of prisoners who have been sickened in federal prisons,” The Marshall Project writes. “But until the Bureau of Prisons provides it, we are unable to record their total.”

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has reported more COVID-19 cases than any other prison system in the country (at least 49,000 to date), so this new data practice may become a major data gap. I know journalists at The Marshall Project will continue extensive coverage of the BOP, though, as they have for the past year. (For more on their tracker of COVID-19 in the prison system, see the recording and recap of our second Diving into COVID-19 Data workshop.)

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