There are 2.4 million people in federal, state, and local prisons and jails in the U.S. In December, the COVID death rate was twice as high among prisoners as among the general population, and the rate of positive cases was four times as high. Throughout the pandemic, prisons and jails have almost always had the highest daily rates of new cases. This doesn’t mean that just prisoners are at higher risk. Prison staff go home and out into the wider community. Vendors of various sorts visit prisons daily. If a prison or jail is a COVID hotspot, that raises the threat beyond the prison walls.
Even though some states recognize this and have put a priority on prisoner vaccinations, many states have not. And, with the slow rollout of vaccinations, the risks remain higher for prisoners and those that come into contact with them than for other people.
About 67 percent of prisoners are people of color, compared to 37 percent of the population. It’s well-documented that racism is built into the so-called “criminal justice” system. Racism has murdered millions from slavery to genocide to lynchings to cop violence. So, many people are in prison in the U.S. just because of the color of their skin… and now COVID plus prison is another racist death sentence.