AUSTIN, Texas - Texas has the largest amount of COVID-19 infections and deaths among incarcerated people than any other state in the nation. That's according to a new report released from the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.
“It's worse here than anywhere else in the country,” said Michele Deitch, author and distinguished lecturer at LBJ School of Public Affairs.
Deitch spearheaded a study. The school released the report, titled COVID and Corrections, highlighting the fact that the virus is infecting this population of people at an alarming rate.
“Prisons and jails are basically Petri dishes, they are very densely packed and the people who live there don't have access to cleaning supplies, hygiene supplies, or hand sanitizer,” she said.
The report says at least 231 people have died from coronavirus in Texas prisons and jails. Also, inmates are testing positive at a rate of 490 percent higher than the rest of the state.
“In terms of the raw numbers, we have more infections and more deaths from COVID than any other prison system in the country. Even when we adjust for the size of the Texas prison system, we do fair really badly in comparison to other states,” said Deitch.
In one facility, the Duncan Unit, almost six percent of the inmate population has died. This also has severely impacted corrections officers
Charley Wilkison, executive director at the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas said 54 law enforcement officers have lost their lives to COVID so far.
CLEAT has spent money from its own budget to get personal protective equipment, or PPE, to officers.
“The prisons are a perfect recipe for people who can't leave, and the folks working there are duty-bound, honor-bound, and financially bound to keep coming in there and working,” said Wilkison.
Deitch said now that they know this, it is time for legislators to make policies to keep officers and the general population safe. “On the prison side, we need to be looking at parole release strategies. I'm only talking about people who do not present any risk whatsoever to public safety,” said Deitch.
Deitch said of the people who died in jail, 80 percent of them were in pretrial and had not yet been convicted of any crime.