20 percent of US prisoners infected with COVID-19: research

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Roughly 20 percent of all state and federal prison inmates in the U.S. have or previously contracted COVID-19, an investigation from The Associated Press and the Marshall Project found.

More than 275,000 inmates serving sentences for various offenses across the country have contracted the virus since the beginning of 2020, the investigation found, and more than 17,000 have died as a result of the virus and lack of access to basic medical care.

Federal officials with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill on the investigation’s findings. Some recently incarcerated Americans told journalists over the course of the investigation that they witnessed inmates in medical distress in common areas of prison facilities.

One former chief medical officer at Riker’s Island in New York also told reporters that he had seen facilities where those with COVID-19 symptoms regularly went without being tested or receiving any medical care.

“I still encounter prisons and jails where, when people get sick, not only are they not tested but they don’t receive care. So they get much sicker than need be,” said Homer Venters,  a senior fellow with Community Oriented Correctional Health Services.

In some states, the rate is reportedly much higher than 1 in 5 infected. In Arkansas and Kansas, more than half of all state and federal prisoners have been infected with COVID-19, and many prison staff have battled infections as well. Nationally, the mortality rate from the virus is 45 percent higher in correctional facilities, according to the investigation.

While distribution of two vaccines for COVID-19, produced by Pfizer and Moderna, has begun in the U.S., only a handful of states are prioritizing incarcerated populations for the first doses. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) reportedly dismissed the idea after state officials initially announced that inmates would be among those prioritized for receiving a vaccine.

“That won’t happen,” he told reporters, according to the Coloradoan. “There’s no way that prisoners are going to get it before members of a vulnerable population…There’s no way it’s going to go to prisoners before it goes to people who haven’t committed any crime. That’s obvious.”

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Jared Polis
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