August 06, 2020

Warren, Pressley, Murray, Booker, Garcia, Clarke, Kelly Introduce the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act

Bicameral bill would require the Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Marshals Service, and state governments to collect and publicly report detailed data about COVID-19 in correctional facilities; A troubling lack of data from BOP, USMS, and state and local governments is making it harder to manage the crisis and contributing to the rampant spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities across the country

Bill Text (PDF) | Bill One-Pager (PDF)

Washington, D.C. -- United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), along with Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Representatives Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) introduced the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, 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 the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in federal, state, and local correctional facilities.

Prisons and jails have become hotspots for the rapid spread of COVID-19, placing the 2.3 million people confined in prisons and jails in the United States in immediate danger. Although all of the 10 largest "clusters" in the U.S. are correctional facilities, 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 no 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 contributing 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.  

"As a result of their confinement, incarcerated people are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, and reports show that COVID-19 has spread like wildfire in correctional facilities across the country. The Administration needs to get serious about stopping the spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities, and that includes ensuring that there is clear, comprehensive, and publicly-available information on COVID-19 in prisons and jails nationwide. This bill takes a necessary step towards containing the pandemic and supporting the health and safety of incarcerated individuals, correctional staff, and the general public by strengthening data collection, reporting, and transparency," Senator Warren said.

"Contracting COVID-19 in prison can be tantamount to a death sentence," said Senator Booker. "People in prison and jail tend to have much higher rates of underlying health issues than the general public, and the conditions of confinement make social distancing virtually impossible, and as a result people in prison and jail are disproportionately contracting and dying of COVID-19. To track and stop the spread of this virus and save lives, we need accurate, up to date, detailed data that reflects the reality of the crisis we are facing."  

"As we've feared since the onset of this pandemic, our nation's prisons, jails, and detention facilities have proven to be among the worst hotspots for COVID-19," said Congresswoman Pressley. "Due to this administration's negligence and lack of transparency, we have no clear way of understanding the severity of this. While the most effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19 in these facilities is to prioritize decarceration, we must use every tool at our disposal to save lives and protect the health of our most vulnerable behind the wall. By mandating the collection and reporting of standardized, disaggregated data on COVID-19 cases and testing in prisons, jails, and detention facilities nationwide, this bill will allow us to better understand the crisis behind the wall and respond accordingly. This is a matter of life and death, and we must act with the necessary urgency to stop the spread of this virus and protect the public health." 

"As COVID-19 continues to ravage our country, and particularly in the most vulnerable communities across the country, we must do everything we can to save lives," said Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia. "Currently, there is little data on how this virus is spreading in prisons, jails, and detention facilities nationwide. This administration is putting the lives of people at risk by not taking decisive actions to protect the well-being of people in these facilities, including many non-violent offenders who are women and juvenile detainees. This is why we need data transparency about how this virus is spreading in order to make decisions that will safeguard the health and safety of detainees and workers in these facilities."

"Serving a prison sentence during COVID-19 should not be a death sentence," said Congresswoman Yvette Clarke. "That's why it is critical that we act now to ensure the safety of incarcerated individuals during this pandemic. We need transparency about the unfolding health crisis in our prisons and jails - and we need a national strategy to address it. Our bill sends a clear message to federal, state, and local corrections officials that we will not tolerate willful blindness when it comes to combatting the coronavirus."

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;
  • 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.

In addition to Senators Warren, Murray, and Booker, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined as Senate cosponsors.

The COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act has received strong support. 

"The top ten COVID-19 hotspots in the country are in jails and prisons, yet there is little transparency about the response to outbreaks. This legislation would provide for 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. Without transparency and immediate action from federal and local governments, thousands of people behind bars and in surrounding communities remain at risk. This legislation is critical to our nation's response to the pandemic. Time is of the essence; we need immediate data on outbreaks and clusters in order to mount effective responses and save lives. Without immediate changes, more lives are at risk." -- Vera Institute of Justice President Nicholas Turner

"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, and hopefully motivate better management and oversight practices in carceral settings during this crisis." -- Kara Gotsch, Director of Strategic Initiatives at The Sentencing Project

"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."

"Families of incarcerated individuals have a right to know how much COVID-19 testing is being done behind bars," said Jessica Jackson, Chief Advocacy Officer at REFORM Alliance. "This bill will give the public better data on the spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities and produce more accountability and transparency in our prison system."

On March 9, 2020, Senators Warren and Booker, and a group of their Senate colleagues, wrote to BOP and private prison companies requesting information on the steps it was taking to prevent and manage the COVID-19 outbreak in federal prisons, and again on March 20, 2020 after receiving no or inadequate responses. Senators Warren, Murray, and Booker have also written to Attorney General William Barr and the BOP urging the BOP to take necessary precautions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the safety and health of medically vulnerable inmates, including medically vulnerable pregnant individuals. Senator Warren, along with Congresswoman Pressley, also wrote to President Trump calling on him to adopt and release decarceral guidelines to reduce the population of people in federal custody in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over a month, Senators Warren and Booker called for universal COVID-19 testing of all incarcerated individuals and staff at federal prisons. Senator Warren is also a cosponsor of Senator Booker's Emergency Community Supervision Act, a bill aimed at reducing the federal prison population in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.