January 05, 2021

Elizabeth Warren Op-Ed: End the silence about what Covid-19 is doing to America's prisons

Washington, DC - Today, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) coauthored an op-ed with COVID Prison Project founders Dr. Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein and Dr. Kathryn Nowotny on CNN.com on the urgent need to address COVID-19 in prisons and jails and why we need Senator Warren's COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act to address the problem.

Key sections below. Read the full op-ed here.

CNN: End the silence about what Covid-19 is doing to America's prisons
Opinion by Elizabeth Warren, Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, and Kathryn Nowotny
January 5, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc in our nation's prisons and jails. We know it's bad, but because comprehensive data isn't being collected, we don't know exactly how bad it is.

One of us has been calling for more data collection since June and two of us started an organization, The COVID Prison Project, to gather and publicize this information where it is available. The project's data, which was used in a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report, shows infection rates among incarcerated people are nearly five times higher than the national average, and the death rates are three times higher.


Defeating this pandemic begins with understanding the extent of the problem, and that starts with addressing the alarming shortage of comprehensive data from state and federal prisons and local jails. Far too many of the country's correctional systems do not report such data on testing, cases, or deaths of incarcerated people or staff. The Covid-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, would help address this dangerous information gap by mandating the collection and public reporting of information we need about the spread of Covid-19 in America's prisons and jails.

The bill sets reporting standards to include the number of incarcerated individuals and staff who have been tested and retested; the type of test performed; the number of negative, active, and pending tests; and the outcomes of those who test positive, including the number of hospitalizations, recoveries, and deaths, along with stats on those who have been placed in or released from quarantine or medical isolation.

Importantly, the bill would also require data be disaggregated by demographic characteristics, including race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ethnicity, disability and geography. The prison system disproportionately targets people of color at every step of the process, from arrest to incarceration to sentencing. Visibility on racial health disparities -- disparities the pandemic has brought to national attention -- is critical to dismantling them.


Data collection and transparency is essential to flattening the Covid-19 curve everywhere -- and that must include our prisons and jails. Plus, improving data-collection at these facilities during the pandemic will help them develop the tools and resources needed to address disease outbreaks in the future.

For far too long, incarcerated people have been thought of as separate from society and our nation has remained unconcerned about the people who live and work in these settings. This is wrong. It is our responsibility to ensure that incarcerated individuals and the staff who work in prisons and jails are adequately protected from this dangerous virus. Doing so starts with good, comprehensive data that will drive smart policy reform. The Covid-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act will do just that.