April 28, 2020

Harris, Colleagues Urge Bureau of Prisons to Release Critical Demographic Data as Country Confronts Coronavirus Pandemic

Preliminary data collected from the general public has shown that the coronavirus (COVID-19) is disproportionately impacting certain populations, including racial and ethnic minorities 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Tuesday joined Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and 13 of their colleagues in sending a letter to Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Michael Carvajal urging him to release system-wide demographic data in the BOP’s public reporting of the number of incarcerated people and staff impacted by COVID-19—including data on the age, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, pregnancy status, sexual orientation, and disability of all incarcerated people and BOP staff who have been tested for, contracted, recovered from, and died from coronavirus, as well as for those who have been transferred to home confinement or granted compassionate release. 

“According to a recent analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation, state data suggests that COVID-19 poses a higher risk for communities of color. Of the states that have reported the race or ethnicity of people diagnosed with COVID-19 and related deaths, 20 out of 31 states reported that Black people accounted for a higher share of cases compared to their share of the total population, and 19 of 24 states reported that Black people accounted for a higher share of deaths. Similar trends have also been evident in Latino communities,” the senators wrote.

They continued, “As of today, BOP reports that 1,046 federal inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 and are still sick, 390 inmates have recovered, and 28 inmates have died as a result of the virus. In addition, 330 BOP staff have tested positive for the virus and are still sick, and 124 staff have recovered; press reports indicate that at least one staff member has died of the virus. BOP should immediately include system-wide demographic data in its public reporting of these numbers.”

Earlier this month, the senators wrote a letter urging the Administration to use new authority provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help incarcerated people stay in contact with families and loved ones during the pandemic.

The April letter followed a previous request from the senators on March 20. In-person visits at federal prisons have been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, and prior to the BOP’s action, calls could cost up to 25 cents per minute in addition to fees charged for each call.

In addition to Harris, Klobuchar, and Durbin, the letter was signed by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ed Markey (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).  

Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:

Dear Director Carvajal:

We write to urge the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to release critical demographic data as our country continues to confront the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In light of preliminary data collected from the general public that has shown COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on certain populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, BOP must take steps to collect and release this type of demographic data.

According to a recent analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation, state data suggests that COVID-19 poses a higher risk for communities of color. Of the states that have reported the race or ethnicity of people diagnosed with COVID-19 and related deaths, 20 out of 31 states reported that Black people accounted for a higher share of cases compared to their share of the total population, and 19 of 24 states reported that Black people accounted for a higher share of deaths. Similar trends have also been evident in Latino communities.

As of today, BOP reports that 1,046 federal inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 and are still sick, 390 inmates have recovered, and 28 inmates have died as a result of the virus. In addition, 330 BOP staff have tested positive for the virus and are still sick, and 124 staff have recovered; press reports indicate that at least one staff member has died of the virus. BOP should immediately include system-wide demographic data in its public reporting of these numbers—including data on the age, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, pregnancy status, sexual orientation, and disability of all incarcerated people and BOP staff who have been tested for, contracted, recovered from, and died from COVID-19, as well as for those who have been transferred to home confinement or granted compassionate release. 

Additionally, as BOP implements the Attorney General’s directive to increase the use of home confinement to protect incarcerated people who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, BOP must take into consideration that the virus is having a disproportionate effect on racial and ethnic minorities. BOP reports placing 1,576 people on home confinement since March 26, and BOP should immediately include demographic data in its reporting of these statistics, as well as specifying how many people have been transferred to home confinement and how many are awaiting transfer to home confinement. 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

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