WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) in reintroducing the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, bicameral 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 cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccinations in federal, state, and local correctional facilities. Although prisons and jails have become hotspots for the rapid spread of COVID-19, 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.
"For too long, federal, state and local corrections facilities were left to address this crisis on their own, leaving many without any guidance or support," said Senator Brown. "We know a systemic problem has contributed to the rampant spread of COVID-19 in these facilities, but in order to stop the spread, we need a clear picture of what's happening. This legislation will help ensure we have the accurate and reliable data needed to put an effective plan in place, and work to protect everyone in 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 even less 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 address outbreaks in real time, and contributes 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:
Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Reps. David Trone (D-MD), Val Demings (D-FL), and Jahana Hayes (D-CT) are also cosponsoring the legislation.
The bill has also been endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); American Public Health Association; AMEND at UCSF; Community Oriented Correctional Health Services; CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants); Dream Corps JUSTICE; Drug Policy Alliance; Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM); Federal Public and Community Defenders; First Focus Campaign for Children; Government Information Watch; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Lambda Legal; Law Enforcement Action Partnership; Legal Action Center; National Association of Counsel for Children; National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; National Association of Social Workers; National Center for Youth Law; National HIRE Network; National Juvenile Justice Network; Open The Government, Pennsylvania Prison Society; R Street Institute; REFORM Alliance; StoptheDrugWar.org; The Justice Collaborative; The Sentencing Project; Union for Reform Judaism; Vera Institute of Justice; and Dr. Brie Williams, Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco.
Additional Background on Brown’s Efforts to Stop the Spread of COVID-19 in Correctional Facilities
Brown sent a letter demanding answers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) as COVID-19 cases at the Federal Correctional Institution, Elkton in Ohio (FCI Elkton) continued to rise in June 2020. Brown pressed the bureau for answers and urged the bureau to step up their efforts to protect those in the facility. The letter was also led by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH-9), Rep. Tim Ryan (D- OH-13) and former Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH-11).
Last March, Brown joined his colleagues in a letter to BOP and the large private prison company GEO Group (GEO), demanding answers to the questions they had previously posed about the policies and procedures that BOP and GEO have in place to prepare for and manage a potential spread of coronavirus in federal prisons and jails. Brown and his colleagues sent the original letter on March 10 and a follow-up letter on March 20. Brown also joined a separate, third letter to BOP, encouraging them to waive fees associated with phone calls or video conferencing, to maintain access to legal counsel without exposing the population.
Additionally, Brown helped secure $100 million for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the CARES Act to respond to the coronavirus pandemic with resources that can be used to meet urgent needs such as purchase of personal protective equipment and other medical equipment, funding overtime, and cleaning facilities.