COVID source callout: States go dark on prison case numbers

State agencies have scaled down reporting on COVID-19 cases in prisons. Figure from UCLA COVID Behind Bars.

We’ve noted in recent months that several states have scaled down their COVID-19 reporting: states are providing fewer metrics, updating their dashboards less frequently, or both. For example, Florida switched from a dashboard and daily PDF reports to weekly reports with much less information.

According to the UCLA COVID Behind Bars data project, these changes are also hitting state carceral agencies—responsible for reporting COVID-19 cases in prisons and jails—right as Delta causes new outbreaks in these facilities. 

Four agencies have stopped reporting these data altogether: state agencies in Florida, Georgia, and Massachusetts along with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Several other states haven’t updated their public data in over a month, including Rhode Island, New Jersey, Montana, and Alaska.

“Carceral agencies are responsible for the care of those in their custody, and, at a bare minimum, these agencies must track and report on COVID-19 cases and deaths in their facilities, regardless of the number of cases,” researchers from the UCLA project wrote in a recent blog post. “The fact that many are no longer doing so, or are doing so less frequently, is especially concerning given that the Delta variant is circulating rapidly around the country.”

The UCLA researchers say that these data reductions come as new outbreaks hit prisons in Delta hotspots: “Prisons in Texas and Missouri, for example, have seen a 500% increase in the number of active cases over the month of July.” Many prison residents and staffers are not vaccinated, leaving them vulnerable to the variant.

Right now, we need more information on COVID-19 in these facilities, not less.

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