December 3, 2020

The Honorable Elizabeth Warren United States Senate Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Ayanna Pressley U.S. House of Representatives Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Warren:

The undersigned groups and individuals, representing diverse perspectives from the fields of criminal justice, medicine, public policy, and public health, are writing in support of the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act (S. 4536/H.R. 7983). The bill requires the collection and reporting of key data on the spread and effect of coronavirus within all of the nation’s correctional facilities, and as such, it would serve as critical bedrock for maintaining an adequate response to the pandemic behind bars.

So far, we know that almost 40 of the nation’s largest COVID-19 clusters, aside from those on massive college campuses, have occurred in correctional settings. However, we don’t know the details, particularly surrounding how COVID-19 in correctional facilities is impacting people of color. The lack of transparency around coronavirus cases, testing, response, and outcomes in these facilities hobbles efforts to provide adequate protection and treatment to incarcerated people and contain the pandemic overall.

Reports on the rapid spread and serious impact of COVID-19 in prisons and jails are alarming and tragic, but unsurprising. Jails and prisons are congregate, crowded, and unsanitary settings. In these conditions, social distancing is nearly impossible, and the novel coronavirus can spread quickly. As of the week of November 30, at least 240,000 people who work or are incarcerated in the nation’s prisons and jails have tested positive for COVID-19—and at least 1,450 have died. This collected data, however, fails to provide the depth of information needed to respond to the pandemic behind bars. At the state and local level, we rely on correctional agencies to self-report, and a large majority of prisons and jails are not collecting and reporting their COVID-19 data adequately.

Although we have some baseline information about the overall number of infections and deaths, we are desperately underinformed about racial and ethnic disparities in COVID- 19 testing, infections, treatment, hospitalizations, and deaths among those living and working in correctional facilities. And we know that people of color are significantly overrepresented in jail and prison populations. These same groups also suffer disproportionately from a higher rate of chronic health conditions that predispose people to worse outcomes, including death, from COVID-19. We cannot determine the full extent of disparities around the virus until we have data from these facilities broken down by race and ethnicity.

The COVID in Corrections Data Transparency Act addresses the aforementioned gaps in data by requiring the collection and reporting of critical weekly information about COVID- 19 in jails, prisons, juvenile facilities, and other correctional facilities by:

  • Requiring the collection and public reporting by BOP, USMS, and state and local correctional facilities of key COVID-19 data on testing, test results, treatment, use of quarantine and isolation, hospitalization, and case outcomes;
  • Mandating data disaggregation by sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, disability, and geography;
  • Directing the CDC to compile all data reported by BOP, USMS, and state and local correctional facilities in a monthly report to Congress; and
  • Subjecting states to a noncompliance penalty in the form of a 10% reduction in future Byrne JAG funding.

We greatly appreciate your leadership on behalf of those affected by the compound crises of COVID-19 and mass incarceration, and we thank you for introducing this critical legislation. The situation in our nation’s correctional facilities is untenable and must be a core focus of federal efforts to protect the health of all Americans, and we stand ready to support your efforts in these difficult times.

A Little Piece Of Light
American Public Health Association
Breaking the Chains Of Your Mind
Center for Disability Rights
Center for Science in the Public Interest
Choose One
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
Community Catalyst
Community Oriented Correctional Health Services
DC Democratic Caucus For Returning Citizens
Defending Rights & Dissent
Drug Policy Alliance
First Focus Campaign for Children
From Prison Cells to PhD
Government Accountability Project
Government Information Watch
Health in Justice Action Lab, Northeastern University School of Law
Innocence Project
Interfaith Action for Human Rights
Iowa Freedom of Information Council
Juvenile Justice Coalition
Law Enforcement Action Partnership
Mothers On the Inside
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Association of Social Workers
National Center for Youth Law
National Crittenton
National Disability Rights Network (NDRN)
National Juvenile Defender Center
National Juvenile Justice Network
National Women’s Health Network
Open The Government
Operation Restoration
Pacific Juvenile Defender Center
Pennsylvania Prison Society
Prison Families Anonymous
R Street Institute
Reproductive Justice Inside
Results for America
Safer Foundation
Sage Information Services
Students for Sensible Drug Policy
The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
The Daniel Initiative
The Sentencing Project
Vera Institute of Justice
Washington Coalition for Open Government