February 10, 2021

Van Hollen, Warren, Murray, Booker, Pressley, Garcia, Colleagues Will Reintroduce COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act

Lawmakers urge leadership to include portions of Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act and COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act in the upcoming COVID-19 relief package

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), along with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) in reintroducing the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, bicameral legislation that would require the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the United States Marshals Service (USMS), and state governments to collect and publicly report detailed data about COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccinations in federal, state, and local correctional facilities.

The COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, which was originally introduced in August 2020, is co-sponsored by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai'i) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Representatives David Trone (D-Md.), Val Demings (D-Fla.), and Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.).

Although prisons and jails have become hotspots for the rapid spread of COVID-19, there is a troubling lack of comprehensive and publicly-available data from the BOP, the USMS, and state and local governments about the spread and management of COVID-19 in correctional facilities.

At the federal level, the BOP posts daily COVID-19 updates on its website but excludes important information, such as hospitalization numbers, and does not disaggregate data based on demographic categories. The USMS provides even less data on its website on COVID-19 cases for individuals in its custody. At the state and local level, many state-run jails are not publicly reporting any information about COVID-19 cases, aside from a small number of large facilities. Even amongst the facilities that are reporting some information, however, the data are not standardized, and no central authority is ensuring that the data are easily accessible to and digestible by policymakers, public health experts, criminal justice professionals, and the public. This lack of detailed and public data is making it harder to manage the pandemic and address outbreaks in real time, and contributes to the rampant spread of the virus both inside correctional facilities across the country and in the communities in which they are situated. This places incarcerated individuals, correctional staff, and the public at risk.  

The COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act would provide public health experts, policymakers, and the public with critical information about COVID-19 in correctional facilities. The bill does this by:

  • requiring BOP, USMS, and state and local correctional facilities to submit the following data to the CDC on a weekly basis, and regularly publish on their websites:
    • the numbers of incarcerated individuals and correctional staff who have been tested for COVID-19, and the type of tests performed,
    • the results of COVID-19 tests, including the numbers of confirmed negative tests, confirmed active cases, pending tests, and the average time to obtain test results,
    • the outcomes of COVID-19 cases, including the numbers of people who were hospitalized, recovered, placed in or released from quarantine or medical isolation, or died from COVID-19,
    • the term of imprisonment and time served for incarcerated individuals who have been infected with COVID-19;
    • the numbers of incarcerated individuals and correctional staff who have been given a first does of a vaccine, have declined a vaccination, and are fully vaccinated;
  • mandating that the data collected and reported be disaggregated by sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, disability, and geography; and
  • subjecting states that fail to submit the required data to the CDC to a penalty in the form of a 10% reduction in future Byrne JAG grant funding.

The COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act has been endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); American Public Health Association; AMEND at UCSF; Community Oriented Correctional Health Services; CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants); Dream Corps JUSTICE; Drug Policy Alliance; Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM); Federal Public and Community Defenders; First Focus Campaign for Children; Government Information Watch; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Lambda Legal; Law Enforcement Action Partnership; Legal Action Center; National Association of Counsel for Children; National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; National Association of Social Workers; National Center for Youth Law; National HIRE Network; National Juvenile Justice Network; Open The Government, Pennsylvania Prison Society; R Street Institute; REFORM Alliance; StoptheDrugWar.org; The Justice Collaborative; The Sentencing Project; Union for Reform Judaism; Vera Institute of Justice; and Dr. Brie Williams, Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco. 

"I encourage all lawmakers to take a moment to truly appreciate how essential this legislation is," said Dr. Brie Williams, Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco and Director of AMEND. "Without accurate, timely and comprehensive data about the impact of COVID-19 in prisons, we are at an extraordinary disadvantage in the fight to keep people who live or work in prisons and their surrounding communities safe from the pandemic. Perhaps even worse, a failure to access and analyze these data in correctional settings today means disaster for addressing COVID variants and future infectious disease outbreaks tomorrow." 

"We thank Senators Warren, Murray and Booker and Representatives Pressley, Garcia, Clarke, and Kelly for introducing the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act. This important legislation will require prisons and jails to report critical public health information on COVID-19 related to its impact on both incarcerated populations and correctional facility employees. Collecting and reporting this data is essential to ensure appropriate measures are put into place to prevent the spread of the disease and to ensure adequate testing and treatment for both inmates and correction facility workers and their families. This information is also critical to helping us further understand the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on communities of color, which also are disproportionately represented in our nation's prisons and jails." -- Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director, American Public Health Association.

"Prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities are a deadly petri dish for highly contagious viruses like COVID-19, which can be spread easily by way of brief, indirect contact with another person through a sneeze or a cough," said Richard Saenz, Senior Attorney and Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist at Lambda Legal. "There is simply no opportunity to practice social distancing. LGBTQ people in correctional facilities are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to underlying conditions such as asthma, kidney-related problems, and other underlying conditions that are a result of a lifetime of discrimination, making them susceptible and more likely to experience complications. This important legislation will help ensure the impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ people and other vulnerable communities in correctional facilities is identified in order to inform future policy making."

"Accurate and timely data about the impact of COVID-19 on incarcerated populations will help government officials better confront the exploding public health crisis behind bars. Enactment of the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act would expose the dangers facing those in prisons and jails from COVID-19 nationwide, track progress on vaccine distribution among incarcerated people, and hopefully motivate better management and oversight practices in carceral settings during this crisis." – Kara Gotsch, Deputy Director at The Sentencing Project.

"From the beginning of the pandemic, people who are incarcerated or detained and those who work in jails, prisons, and detention centers have been at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. The COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act is an important step forward for public health, community well-being, and fairness," said Vera Institute of Justice President and Director Nicholas Turner. "An equitable COVID-19 response addresses the needs of the most vulnerable, including incarcerated people. This legislation would provide key information for coordinating responses to COVID-19, including decarceration, prevention, and treatment, for those living and working in jails and prisons. It also would help us to understand the extent of disparities in the virus's spread and impact by requiring facilities to report data on race, ethnicity, sex, age, and other demographics. Introducing this legislation, with revised language to include vaccination data, will help to address inequities in our system and will ultimately help us save lives."