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New, More Dire Numbers on Prison COVID Deaths

No official count exists yet of nationwide deaths from COVID-19 in American prisons and jails, but a new national study shows that the overall prison mortality rate spiked at least 50%, and potentially exceeded 75%, with roughly 50 or more people dying per 10,000 in prison in 2020, the Marshall Project reports. More than 6,000 incarcerated people died in the pandemic's first year, researchers at the University of California, Irvine and Brigham and Women's Hospital found. Their study, in Science Advances, was based on numbers from state prison systems and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Hit especially hard were older incarcerated people, the study's data shows. In the eight states that shared counts by age, death rates for people 50 and older rose far higher than for others. Although incarceration rates dropped during the first year of the pandemic, this was due more to delayed admissions than early releases, leaving older people already incarcerated at higher risk of infection. Fordham law professor John Pfaff also published a new analysis of COVID prison releases and deaths, echoing similar conclusions. Pfaff said his numbers show "a huge public health threat, and a tellingly meager response," with local jails absorbing much of the delayed prison admissions. "Two related patterns stand out immediately," Pfaff wrote. "First, the number of people aged 65+ had been growing in most states even before Covid, and in many states had basically been the only age cohort that was growing. And second, in many states their numbers continued to grow after Covid hit; even when they shrank, their numbers rarely shrank to same degree as those for younger people."


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