On his first full day in office, President Biden promised to order the federal Bureau of Prisons to reevaluate its COVID-19 protocols and release data on the spread of the virus in prisons. That specific order never came. As COVID-19 is spiking in federal prisons around the U.S., spurred by the Omicron variant and still-substandard infection control, advocates say that the BOP’s COVID-19 protocols are as broken as ever, STAT reports. Nearly 3,000 inmates have died of COVID-19, including roughly 300 in federal custody. People in prison are roughly three times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the general population, after adjusting for the fact that the prison population skews younger.
Biden does not have the power to fix the disparities in the entire prison system because most facilities are run by state authorities and 3,000 jails are typically run by counties. Biden's 198-page COVID-19 playbook included two pledges aimed at stemming the virus’s spread in prisons. The administration promised it would release an executive order that would require the BOP and ICE to “evaluate their COVID-19 protocols, release data on the spread of COVID-19 in facilities, and use federal grant programs to create incentives for state and local facilities to adhere to sound public health guidance.” Not only did the order never materialize, but major advocacy organizations said they never even knew the order was planned.