(Washington, DC, April 23, 2020) – The Justice Policy Institute released a new policy brief on COVID-19 explosion in Maryland prisons. As of April 22nd, Maryland reported 136 positive cases of COVID-19 in its prisons. A forecasting model predicts that number will rise to 523 incarcerated individuals and 222 staff within a week. In two weeks, 1,832 incarcerated people and 452 staff are projected to test positive for the virus. In three weeks, 4,873 incarcerated individuals and 1,033 staff are projected to test positive. At that time, over 400 incarcerated individuals and staff are expected to be hospitalized and 424 staff will be unable to work.
The Recidiviz model projects that, at the peak, nearly 1 in 5 hospital beds will be occupied by someone who contracted the virus in a Maryland prison. Recent news from Ohio, where three-fourths of tests administered in prison are positive, and the prison system now accounts for more than 20% of the state’s cases, underscore how quickly this virus spreads through an incarcerated population.
Ryan King, JPI’s Director of Research and Policy said, “these numbers, as shocking as they may appear, are quite conservative. They are based on current rates of positive tests, which are a reflection of testing. Maryland’s lack of transparency in how many tests have been administered leads us to believe that these positive rates are quite low.”
Maryland faces almost certain disaster if leadership does not take immediate action to quickly and substantially reduce the number of people in its prisons. Nationally, 28 states have taken executive action to release at least 14,000 people from prison in order to save the lives of people who are incarcerated and the correctional staff and the communities to which they return every day. Many states have shared their plans to mitigate the harm of the COVID-19 pandemic in prison and provide daily updates on positive tests, hospitalization, and mortality rates. Unfortunately, Maryland remains an outlier.
“Maryland must take immediate action to decarcerate in order to stop what is becoming a catastrophic outbreak in its prison system and beyond,” said Keith Wallington, JPI’s State Based Strategist. Governor Hogan’s recent executive order to release around 800 individuals – over the course of four months – is too few and too slow, falling far short of the reductions needed to lessen the spread of COVID-19. And, while the statement from April 20th, that Maryland has released 2,000 people from its jails and prisons over the past five weeks is encouraging, that reduction only results in a projection of a few hundred fewer cases over a 3-week period.
“Governor Hogan was wrong when he suggested that individuals are safer in prison,” said Justice Policy Institute Executive Director Marc Schindler. “Prisons are an ideal setting for the spread of the virus. Social distancing is impossible, personal protective equipment is extremely limited and often not being used correctly, cleaning supplies are inadequate, and health care services are insufficient to meet the demand.”
Maryland’s limited testing and lack of transparency about what is happening in its prisons today leaves leadership, community members, and loved ones in the dark. While Maryland has been a leader in proactively taking steps to stem the spread of the virus among the general population, it remains far behind other states in taking the only action that will save lives for people inside prisons, correctional staff and surrounding communities: decarceration. These missteps jeopardize the progress the state has made to keep residents safe from the virus and risks the lives of thousands of people.
“I know what it’s like to be incarcerated, and I know from personal experience that it is impossible to have effective social distancing inside prisons,” said Tyrone Walker, JPI Associate. “Immediate steps need to be taken to reduce the number of people incarcerated, otherwise we will see incarcerated people and correctional staff getting sick and dying, and also spreading the virus to surrounding communities.”
The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is dedicated to ending the incarceration generation by reducing reliance on the justice system and using incarceration only as a last resort.
The nonprofit Recidiviz created the online model built specifically for institutional populations that projects transmission of the virus using state-specific data on prison population, age distribution, and steps taken to mitigate the spread of the virus.