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New York, Connecticut Get Poor Marks For Prisoner Protection From COVID

Prison cells
Courtesy of Pixabay

New York and Connecticut are better than average for how their state prisons responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s according to a nationwide criminal justice group, but advocates said both states could still do more.

The scorecard gave most states an F. New York and Connecticut both got an F+. Wanda Bertram is with the Prison Policy Initiative in western Massachusetts. She said prison inmates are dying of COVID-19 at much higher rates than the general population.

“Because prisons have never been safe places for people to be during a pandemic, or really ever,” Bertram said.

The group gave each state a grade for their prisons’ pandemic response — based on about 30 metrics, like vaccination efforts for inmates, or early release for those at highest risk.

“Releasing people and letting them go home during the pandemic is the best way of slowing down this virus inside prisons and jails,” Bertram said.

Connecticut released more inmates than every state but New Jersey and had good vaccination rates. But Bertram said both states left key policy options on the table.

“For instance, Connecticut and New York actually released fewer people on parole in 2020 than they had in 2019. Which is astonishing to me,” Bertram said.

And she said New York fell short on some surprising metrics, too.

“All too often we think about mass incarceration and inhuman treatment as something that only happens in those famous tough-on-crime states, like the gulf states. But in New York, the vaccination rate behind bars is only 40%. So people are in real danger,” Bertram said.

Overall, Bertram said no state’s response has been sufficient.

“Schools, hospitals, nursing homes — we’ve expected that during the pandemic these agencies that we trust are going to pull out all the stops to slow down the spread of the virus. And you’re seeing prisons leaving these really important options on the cutting room floor,” Bertram said.

The report gave New Jersey its highest grade — a C. The state led the country in releasing inmates. California got a C-, and no other state scored above a D.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.