Since you asked: What information is available about COVID-19 and vaccinations in prison now?

Despite the new variants of COVID-19, prison systems are failing to publish up-to-date and necessary data and we don’t know much about booster shot access.

by Emily Widra, December 16, 2021

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, prison systems throughout the country began publishing COVID-19 data, lifting a tiny corner of the veil of secrecy that usually shields prisons from public scrutiny. These “COVID data dashboards” — which varied from state to state, but generally at least tracked the number of active cases, testing efforts, and COVID-19 deaths — marked a departure from the outdated, obscure data we usually see coming out of prison systems and state and federal agencies. However, the quality and comprehensiveness of the published data varied from state to state, and dashboards were often riddled with inadequacies and confusion. To make matters worse, even as the Delta variant surged through the country in the summer of 2021, the UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project reported that a number of states — including those with some of the highest case rates, like Florida and Georgia — had rolled back their publicly available prison data.

Now that we’re facing yet another COVID-19 threat with the Omicron variant, many of these states have reinitiated data reporting on the number of COVID-19 cases and tests behind bars. And yet, data on COVID-19 vaccinations and booster dosesour strongest protection in the face of COVID-19 — are scarce and incomplete across the nation’s prison systems. Publicly available and regularly updated COVID-19 prison data — including vaccination and booster data — are crucial for holding public officials, politicians, and legislatures accountable, as well as for helping families and the general public obtain even the simplest information about COVID-19 in their loved ones’ facilities and local communities.

 

Most state prison systems provide patchy COVID-19 data, at best

In July 2021, the UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project reported a startling trend: Many state correctional agencies were failing to regularly update their COVID-19 data, including lags of 58 days in Florida, 40 days in New Jersey, and more than two weeks in Wyoming, New Hampshire, Utah, Mississippi, Alaska, and Montana. Massachusetts and Rhode Island announced that they would no longer be updating their COVID-19 prison data dashboards. A month later, in August 2021, UCLA found that Florida and Georgia had completely removed their COVID-19 data dashboards, while Louisiana drastically reduced its published data to only include active case counts.1

In fact, patchy and delayed prison COVID-19 data has become the norm, not the exception. As of December 14, 2021, 8 state correctional agencies have COVID-19 data dashboards that have not been updated in the last week. The DOC COVID-19 dashboard in Montana has not been updated for 88 days so far, and it’s been 25 days in Mississippi, 14 days in Tennessee, 12 days in North Carolina, 11 days in Alabama and New York, 9 days in Alaska, and 8 days in Oregon. An additional four states’ DOC COVID-19 dashboards — Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, and Oklahoma — appear to be updated frequently but have no consistent information about when they last updated the data, leaving us unsure of how accurate and relevant the data are. West Virginia updates most of their COVID-19 data regularly, but their vaccination data are from November 5th, 2021, 39 days ago.

 

Even when they do update their dashboards, most states fail to report crucial information.

There are five major metrics that states should be tracking and publishing:

  • cumulative case counts,
  • active or current cases,
  • cumulative deaths,
  • vaccination progress, and
  • testing counts.

Yet only three states provide sufficient data on all five of these metrics, for both incarcerated people and correctional staff: Washington, West Virginia, and Maryland. All other states with COVID-19 data dashboards are only publishing some of this data.

Map of prison system COVID data transparency

In particular, data on vaccine administration — and booster doses — are rare. Only 22 states and the federal system provide vaccination data for incarcerated people and only 15 states and federal prisons provide vaccination data for staff. Only two states — Maryland and South Carolina — are publishing the number of incarcerated people who have refused the vaccine, while no prison systems are publishing the number of staff who have refused a vaccine.2

What COVID-19 data does each state correctional agency and the Bureau of Prisons regularly publish?

An asterisk (*) denotes that the data is only available for the number of initial vaccine doses rather than completed vaccinations. UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project collects data directly from DOC data dashboards. Some states do not publish vaccination data on the DOC dashboards but did report data to The Marshall Project prior to July 2021. Where possible, we added The Marshall Project data for states that do not publish vaccine data on their dashboards.
Prison system Incarcerated population Correctional staff Date of data
In DOC dashboard? Percent vaccinated Source In DOC dashboard? Percent vaccinated Source
Alabama Yes 66%* UCLA/Data dashboard Yes 23%* UCLA/Data dashboard Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 12/5/21
Alaska Yes 65% UCLA/Data dashboard No Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Arizona No No
Arkansas No No
California Yes 79% UCLA/Data dashboard Yes 67% UCLA/Data dashboard Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 12/5/21
Colorado Yes 87%* UCLA/Data dashboard Yes 82%* UCLA/Data dashboard Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 12/5/21
Connecticut Yes 54%* UCLA/Data dashboard Yes 54%* UCLA/Data dashboard Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 12/5/21
Delaware Yes 46% UCLA/Data dashboard No Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Federal Yes 77% UCLA/Data dashboard Yes 67% UCLA/Data dashboard Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 12/5/21
Florida No data dashboard No data dashboard
Georgia No data dashboard 59%* The Marshall Project No data dashboard 24% The Marshall Project Incarcerated: 6/22/21
Staff: 6/22/21
Hawaii No 31% The Marshall Project No Incarcerated: 5/11/21
Idaho Yes 79% UCLA/Data dashboard No Incarcerated: 6/22/21
Illinois No 69% The Marshall Project No 39% The Marshall Project Incarcerated: 6/16/21
Staff: 3/14/21
Indiana No 55% The Marshall Project No Incarcerated: 6/23/21
Iowa No 65% The Marshall Project No 56% The Marshall Project Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 12/5/21
Kansas Yes 90%* UCLA/Data dashboard Yes 48%* UCLA/Data dashboard Incarcerated: 6/10/21
Staff: 5/13/21
Kentucky No 79%* The Marshall Project No 58% The Marshall Project Incarcerated: 6/3/21
Staff: 6/3/21
Louisiana No 58% The Marshall Project No Reported 2,179 staff vaccinations to The Marshall Project, but did not report total number of staff. Incarcerated: 6/23/21
Staff: 6/23/21
Maine Yes 78% UCLA/Data dashboard No Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Maryland Yes 70% UCLA/Data dashboard Yes 65% UCLA/Data dashboard Incarcerated: 6/16/21
Staff: 6/16/21
Massachusetts No 72% The Marshall Project No 60% The Marshall Project Incarcerated: 6/25/21
Staff: 6/16/21
Michigan No 63% The Marshall Project No Incarcerated: 6/24/21
Minnesota Yes 92% UCLA/Data dashboard Yes 68% UCLA/Data dashboard Incarcerated: 6/16/21
Staff: 6/16/21
Mississippi No 58% The Marshall Project No 32% The Marshall Project Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 6/16/21
Missouri Yes 75%* UCLA/Data dashboard No Incarcerated: 6/25/21
Montana No 27% The Marshall Project No Incarcerated: 6/25/21
Nebraska No No
Nevada No data dashboard 65%* The Marshall Project No data dashboard 49%* The Marshall Project Incarcerated: 6/15/21
Staff: 6/15/21
New Hampshire Yes 81% UCLA/Data dashboard No Incarcerated: 11/5/21
New Jersey New Jersey publishes the total number of doses administered to incarcerated people and staff, so it is unclear how many of those doses were initial doses or secondary doses.
New Mexico No 77% The Marshall Project No 71% The Marshall Project Incarcerated: 6/2/21
Staff: 6/23/21
New York No 52% The Marshall Project No 29% The Marshall Project Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 12/5/21
North Carolina Yes 73% UCLA/Data dashboard Yes 52% UCLA/Data dashboard Incarcerated: 6/8/21
Staff: 6/22/21
North Dakota No 75% The Marshall Project No Incarcerated: 6/3/21
Ohio No 57%* The Marshall Project No 53%* The Marshall Project Incarcerated: 6/3/21
Staff: 5/2/21
Oklahoma No No Incarcerated: 6/9/21
Oregon No 77% The Marshall Project No Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Pennsylvania Yes 89% UCLA/Data dashboard Yes 47% UCLA/Data dashboard Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 5/30/21
Rhode Island No 59% The Marshall Project No 65% The Marshall Project Incarcerated: 4/16/21
Staff: 6/4/21
South Carolina Yes 59% UCLA/Data dashboard No Incarcerated: 12/5/21
South Dakota No 67* The Marshall Project No Incarcerated: 6/21/21
Tennessee Tennessee publishes the total number of doses administered to incarcerated people and staff, so it is unclear how many of those doses were initial doses or secondary doses.
Texas No 42% The Marshall Project No 35% The Marshall Project Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 6/22/21
Utah No 7% The Marshall Project No Incarcerated: 6/21/21
Vermont No 65% The Marshall Project No 47% The Marshall Project Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 12/5/21
Virginia Yes 69% UCLA/Data dashboard Yes 47% UCLA/Data dashboard Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 12/5/21
Washington Yes 73%* UCLA/Data dashboard Yes 48%* UCLA/Data dashboard Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 12/5/21
West Virginia Yes 53% UCLA/Data dashboard Yes 44% UCLA/Data dashboard Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Staff: 12/5/21
Wisconsin Yes 81% UCLA/Data dashboard No Incarcerated: 12/5/21
Wyoming No data dashboard No data dashboard

 

Only a few state prison systems are publishing data on booster shots

The CDC has made clear to the public that booster shots are crucial to maintaining protection from COVID-19 — particularly from newer variants like Delta and Omicron. But are prison systems following the booster dose recommendations of the federal government and the CDC? It’s hard to know, given the absolute scarcity of information about booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in prisons across the country. Our survey of websites operated by state departments of corrections and the Bureau of Prisons found that only four states — Delaware, Missouri, Michigan, and Minnesota — are publishing data on booster dose administration for incarcerated people, while only one prison system — Maryland — is making data available about correctional staff booster doses.

Given the scarcity of COVID-19 vaccination data, it is concerning but perhaps not surprising that we struggled to find data on booster doses administered. Even more troubling, we were only able to find four state prison systems — North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Utah — that published explicit start dates for the administration of booster doses on their websites.3 An additional six prison systems — Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Utah, Wisconsin, and the BOP — have put out policies or public statements that at least mentioned COVID-19 booster doses. This leaves us with no evidence that more than 40 other states are providing boosters at all. And when it comes to staff, we found no explicit plans for administering booster doses to prison staff in any prison system.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, either inside or outside prison walls. COVID-19 cases have spiked nationwide this fall (and are expected to again this winter), and many of the people most vulnerable to the virus are currently locked up. What’s more, we know that COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons can quickly spread to surrounding communities, with grave public health consequences. But alarmingly, it appears that state prison systems are not offering the booster shot to incarcerated people to protect them — as well as the general public — from COVID-19.

Finally, by retiring their COVID-19 data dashboards, prison systems are leaving the public in the dark about a critical public health measure. Rather than waiting until the pandemic is over to hold these prison systems accountable for their healthcare policy failures, we should demand transparency — and booster shots for incarcerated people — now.

If you know of notable policies or data about booster doses that should be included here, please let us know at virusresponse@prisonpolicy.org.

 
 

Footnotes

  1. In a confounding move, weeks after restricting their published data, the Louisiana Department of Corrections announced on July 27 that it was suspending visitation due to the “latest surge of COVID-19 positive cases in Louisiana,” as reported by UCLA. If the drastic statewide surge in cases was enough to shut down visitation, we would expect the Department to increase — not diminish — data transparency.  ↩

  2. This does not mean that these data are not published elsewhere. The survey we conducted for this update was based solely on the COVID-19 data dashboards on the individual state department of corrections websites. For example, news sources have published correctional staff vaccine refusal data at a single point in time for Massachusetts and Minnesota.  ↩

  3. A news source reported that a fifth state prison system, North Carolina, has begun administering booster doses, but we were not able to find this information on the North Carolina Department of Public Safety website.  ↩

Emily Widra is a Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)

One response:

  1. Quinn says:

    The federal burue of prisons is inept and very sly. Danbury CT. The inmates have had no visits since before Thanksgiving they are on red notice half the staff isn’t coming in and the other half does not care. If anything goes wrong I wouldn’t be surprised if they claim the inmates were trying to escape. There is no information on any of the variants in the bop web.



Stay Informed


Get the latest updates:



Tweet this page Donate


Events

Not near you?
Invite us to your city, college or organization.