Durbin Joins Warren, Murray, Booker To Introduce The COVID-19 In Corrections Data Transparency Act

Bicameral Bill Would Require The Federal Bureau Of Prisons, U.S. Marshals Service, And State Governments To Collect And Publicly Report Detailed Data About COVID-19 In Correctional Facilities

CHICAGOU.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29), Yvette Clarke (D-NY-09), and Robin Kelly (D-IL-02) to introduce the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, legislation that would require the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the United States Marshals Service (USMS), and state governments to collect and publicly report detailed data about COVID-19 in federal, state, and local correctional facilities.

Prisons and jails have become hotspots for the rapid spread of COVID-19, placing the 2.3 million people confined in prisons and jails in the United States in immediate danger.  Although all of the 10 largest “clusters” in the U.S. are correctional facilities, there is a troubling lack of comprehensive and publicly-available data from the BOP, the USMS, and state and local governments about the spread and management of COVID-19 in correctional facilities.

“COVID-19 is continuing to spread like wildfire in our prisons and jails, putting the lives of inmates, staff, and communities at risk.  But BOP and USMS have failed to adequately report data about the number of cases to state government.  Without this critical data, it’s becoming more difficult to treat these facilities as the hotspots they are,” said Durbin.  “This legislation takes a step forward in ensuring that local leaders and public health experts have the data readily available to address the needs of these facilities.”

At the federal level, the BOP posts daily COVID-19 updates on its website but excludes important information, such as hospitalization numbers, and does not disaggregate data based on demographic categories.  The USMS provides no data on its website on COVID-19 cases for individuals in its custody.

At the state and local level, many state-run jails are not publicly reporting any information about COVID-19 cases, aside from a small number of large facilities.  Even amongst the facilities that are reporting some information, however, the data are not standardized, and no central authority is ensuring that the data are easily accessible to and digestible by policymakers, public health experts, criminal justice professionals, and the public.  This lack of detailed and public data is making it harder to manage the pandemic and contributing to the rampant spread of the virus both inside correctional facilities across the country and in the communities in which they are situated.  This places incarcerated individuals, correctional staff, and the public at risk.  

The COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act would provide public health experts, policymakers, and the public with critical information about COVID-19 in correctional facilities. The bill does this by:

  • Requiring BOP, USMS, and state and local correctional facilities to submit the following data to the CDC on a weekly basis, and regularly publish on their websites:
    • the numbers of incarcerated individuals and correctional staff who have been tested for COVID-19, and the type of tests performed,
    • the results of COVID-19 tests, including the numbers of confirmed negative tests, confirmed active cases, pending tests, and the average time to obtain test results,
    • the outcomes of COVID-19 cases, including the numbers of people who were hospitalized, recovered, placed in or released from quarantine or medical isolation, or died from COVID-19,
    •  the term of imprisonment and time served for incarcerated individuals who have been infected with COVID-19;
  • Mandating that the data collected and reported be disaggregated by sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, disability, and geography; and
  • Subjecting states that fail to submit the required data to the CDC to a penalty in the form of a 10% reduction in future Byrne JAG grant funding.

In addition to Durbin, Warren, Murray, and Booker, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined as Senate cosponsors.

More information about the bill can be found here.

Durbin, along with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), also introduced the COVID-19 Safer Detention Act to expand compassionate release and home confinement for elderly nonviolent offenders in order to help reduce federal prison populations.  The COVID-19 Safer Detention Act has broad bipartisan support and is cosponsored by Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-NY), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).