Blog post by:
Javonne Rich, MSW, ACLU of Delaware Policy Advocate
COVID-19 isn’t gone in Delaware, and it certainly isn’t gone in Delaware’s correctional facilities. Our work to protect those living and working in our prisons is not done.
Instead of taking recommended actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, the incarcerated and the people who work with them have been kept in danger throughout this pandemic. The Department of Correction has already seen people die from COVID complications, as well as the continued spread of COVID-19 because the state did not release people early to make social distancing possible or take immediate personal protection equipment distribution steps to protect those people who remained.
The Department of Correction has already seen people die from COVID complications, as well as the continued spread of COVID-19 because the state did not release people early to make social distancing possible or take immediate personal protection equipment distribution steps to protect those people who remained.
At the beginning of June, seven deaths from COVID-19 had been reported among the prison population. Incarcerated people are dying in our correctional facilities at a rate that is 3rd highest in the nation. There have been 141 incarcerated individuals and 89 correctional staff confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19. Even without universal testing of the entire prison population, incarcerated people are testing positive at a rate that is 11th highest in the nation.
By May 22, 2020, only 280 incarcerated individuals or approximately 6% of the prison population were tested for COVID-19. 53% of the total number of tests returned positive. Despite the Department of Correction’s assertion that they have “contained” the spread of the virus, it is unknown what the true impact of the virus is without testing all of the incarcerated population and staff.
As public health experts have made clear, testing all incarcerated people and staff in jails and prisons is necessary before states can fully resume normal activity. Universal testing is necessary to arrest the spread of the virus inside these facilities, and just as importantly, to prevent the continued spread of the virus from jails and prisons back into the community over the upcoming months. Recognizing that testing is one of the few proven ways to track and slow the spread of the virus absent a vaccine or effective treatment, Governors in states like Maryland and New Jersey have already implemented universal testing in all state correctional facilities.
As bad as these numbers and statistics already are, they will grow worse. The state may be opening up in phases, but we are still not out of danger of the destruction of COVID-19, incarcerated people even more so. Immediate and universal testing in correctional facilities is a necessary next step to understand the true scope of the problem and to take action that will be effective in protecting the lives of staff, people who are incarcerated, and those living in surrounding communities. By testing all incarcerated folks and staff, it will be made apparent if the Delaware Department of Correction has in fact contained the virus or not.