1 in 5 State and Federal Prisoners in the U.S. Has Tested Positive for COVID-19

While good vaccine news has given some hope, the reality of the ongoing pandemic for most Americans remains a pressing concern as we enter 2021.


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One in five prisoners in the U.S. has had COVID-19.

That rate among state and federal prisoners, per an Associated Press and Marshall Project report published Friday, is more than four times higher than the rate of the general population. Current data shows that at least 275,000 prisoners in the U.S. have been infected during the pandemic, while more than 1,700 have died. This week, new cases among prison facilities hit their highest level since testing started earlier this year.

Giving prisoners early access to the Covid-19 vaccine is a common-sense epidemiological call, say public health experts. Prisons and jails have been the epicenters of some of the largest outbreaks, and incarcerated people face higher risk. https://t.co/5Pu2zj7dfH

— The Marshall Project (@MarshallProj) December 17, 2020

The report—helmed by the Marshall Project's Katie Park and Beth Schwartzapfel with AP's Andrew Demillo—includes insight from a number of health officials who criticize incarceration conditions in the U.S. for worsening the pandemic for those behind bars. When inmates get sick, in many instances, they don't receive the care they need. As a result, sick inmates often get even sicker.

"The interchange between communities and prisons and jails has always been there, but in the context of COVID-19 it's never been clearer," Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, a professor of social medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill, said. "We have to stop thinking about them as a place apart."

Those affected most by this fumbling of a health crisis are also interviewed, with many reporting on their own experiences with failed prison conditions. 26-year-old Donte Westmoreland, for example, caught COVID-19 while serving time on a weed charge. He was forced to live with more than 100 infected inmates in an "open dorm" setting.

For the full investigative report, click here.

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