At Least 231 People In Texas Jails And Prisons Have Died From COVID-19, Study Finds

A Federal Bureau of Prisons truck drives past barbed wire fences at the Federal Medical Center prison in Fort Worth, Texas in May 2020.

LM Otero/AP

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LM Otero/AP

A Federal Bureau of Prisons truck drives past barbed wire fences at the Federal Medical Center jail in Fort Worth, Texas in May 2020.

LM Otero/AP

Interview Highlights

This is a problem that continues prisons and jails in other states, too, however some have taken aggressive steps to lower the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among people who are jailed. In New Jersey, thousands of inmates were released to slow the spread. Deitch says other states have actually “taken more aggressive procedures to protect individuals inside through offering hand sanitizer and hygiene materials, cleaning up supplies, soap and masks, of course.”

Deitch talked to NPR about the scope of the issue for inmates and staff, and what can be done next.

In county prisons, 80% of individuals who passed away had not even been convicted of a crime. In one prison, the Duncan Unit, nearly 6% of the entire incarcerated population has died; that center has “mainly geriatric prisoners,” Deitch stated.

A minimum of 231 individuals in Texas jails and prisons have actually died from COVID-19, including 27 staff members, 14 individuals in jail and 190 individuals in prison, according to a brand-new report from researchers at the University of Texas at Austin.

NPR reached out to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for their action to the research study, but has not heard back. The department has moved to significantly broaden testing, which Deitch called “great,” but says “you cant disregard the truth that there are 190 dead people in our jails. Those are numbers that testing does not discuss.”

The reports lead researcher, Professor Michele Deitch, informed NPRs Weekend Edition that the main takeaway from the report is the overall “devastating toll of COVID on the Texas prison system.”

Nine of the prisoners who passed away were already approved for parole and awaiting release, while another 21 had actually served at least 90% of their sentence. Almost three-quarters of those who passed away in jail did not have a life sentence and 58% of them were qualified for parole.

On how the virus has actually impacted staffing

The circumstance for staff is exceptionally challenging. Texas is a location that has an extremely bad understaffing issue and many staff have been required to work overtime and to be doing their extra shifts in other centers, which develops not only a danger of exposure for those team member, however also a threat of transfer of the virus from center to facility.

What the findings indicate for the danger of neighborhood spread

Among the lessons of the pandemic is that theres no bright line in between whats happening inside our jails and prisons and whats happening in the neighborhood. We have personnel that go back and forth every day and they are taking what they are exposed to in the neighborhood, bringing it into the centers and vice versa.

On what sort of solutions she recommends

The department has moved to drastically expand screening, which Deitch called “excellent,” but states “you cant overlook the truth that there are 190 dead people in our jails. This is a problem that persists in prisons and prisons in other states, too, but some have taken aggressive steps to minimize the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths amongst people who are put behind bars. Prisons are some of the most largely inhabited centers that we have, and we require to be able to offer people more area. Our report looks at individuals who are parole eligible– 58% of the individuals who passed away in jail were parole eligible. We likewise found that 80% of the people who died were over age 55.

Isabella Gomez and Martha Ann Overland produced and edited the audio variation of this story. Christianna Silva produced for the Web.

We also discovered that 80% of individuals who passed away were over age 55. Thats an age passed most peoples crime-prone years. So that appears like a very low danger to public security to be targeting those individuals for release.

Jails are some of the most densely populated centers that we have, and we require to be able to offer individuals more space. Our report looks at people who are parole eligible– 58% of the people who passed away in jail were parole eligible. 9 individuals died after they were authorized for parole, however while they were still waiting to be released.