Texas prisons have reported 78 staff deaths from COVID-19, more than any other prison system in the nation, a rate more than three times the national average for prison employees. So reports the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin in a new report, “Canary in the Coal Mine: A Profile of Staff COVID Deaths in the Texas Prison System.”
Most of those who died were custodial workers in direct contact with inmates. The agency lost over 1000 years of staff experience. COVID deaths and infections are exacerbating an already severe understaffing crisis in the prison agency, the report says.
Low vaccination rates among staff and rolled-back protective measures are making matters worse. "Given the agency’s lack of transparency about COVID deaths of incarcerated people in Texas, these staff deaths and infections provide a window into the impact that COVID is having in Texas prisons," says the study.
"They serve as a proverbial 'canary in the coal mine,' warning that the pandemic is still far from over for people who live and work in prisons."
The report recommends strategies to mitigate the continued spread of COVID in custodial settings and help save lives.
It urges Texas justice system stakeholders, including the Parole Board, the Governor, and the Legislature, to "use all their available authority to immediately reduce the number of people incarcerated in Texas prisons."
The report also says that Texas should continue to require masks and take other precautionary measures even in facilities with more than a 70 percent, and should resume reporting data about COVID deaths of prisoners, as well as disclosing how many staff members and inmates have been given booster shots.