Prison Deaths Rose Almost 50% When Pandemic Hit, Report Shows

Deaths among prison inmates soared almost 50% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to newly available data.

The fatalities more than doubled in six states, according to the figures from researchers at the UCLA Law Behind Bars Data Project.

The death rate surpassed the rate of increases at nursing homes. It was more than twice as high as the increase in the U.S. general population.

The New York Times  reported that the death rate among prisoners in state and federal prisons rose due to several factors, including the aging inmate population, a shortage of prison workers, and medical personnel who weren’t prepared for the pandemic.

In 2020, at least 6,182 people died in prisons. The number was 4,240 in 2019. The prison population fell from more than 1.4 million to about 1.3 million during that time.

West Virginia had the highest death rate, with 96 per 10,000 prisoners. Researchers said “long sentences, harsh conditions and relatively poor public health overall” contributed, The Times reported. 

“Clearly the pandemic is the story, but it is just a part of the story,” said Aaron Littman, an assistant professor and the acting director of the UCLA project.

Texas, which has the most prisoners in the country, recorded had 48 deaths per 10,000, an increase from 28.

California, ranked second for number of prisoners, had 43 deaths per 10,000 in 2020, an increase from 32.

“It is essential that we as the public know what happens in institutions that incarcerate people in our name,” Littman said. “But unfortunately that has never been the case to the appropriate extent, and it has become worse over time.”


UCLA Law Behind Bars Data Project: “UCLA Law Releases New Database to Monitor Deaths in U.S. Prisons with Funding from Arnold Ventures”

The New York Times: “As the Pandemic Swept America, Deaths in Prisons Rose Nearly 50 Percent”

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