In this article about the ways agencies are continuing to shield data about the impact of COVID-19 in prisons, Michele responds to TDCJ’s claim that it waits for autopsy results before reporting deaths in custody due to COVID. The article also highlights findings from, “Hidden Figures,” our report detailing a lack of data transparency regarding the impact of COVID-19 in state prisons, local jails and state-run juvenile facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s a sense that COVID is over, that the pandemic is behind us, and that is just not the case,” Deitch said. “We have to remember that prisons and jails were hit so much harder than the outside communities were, and in many jurisdictions, they were late to provide vaccinations to incarcerated people.”
New York has not followed that recommendation, prompting University of Texas at Austin researchers to list the state among seven others that have done the least to shed light on COVID-19 inside facilities. Secrecy during the pandemic, they warned in their new “Hidden Figures” report, makes it “difficult to determine if juvenile corrections agencies are responding to the complex and unique needs of incarcerated youth.”
An investigation using data from Hidden Figures which gave Maine a D-minus grade for the transparency of its COVID-19 data in the state prison system, a D for data transparency in juvenile facilities and an F for transparency in the jail system.
Florida news investigation using PJIL's Hidden Figures report to look at the state's ranking for transparency about COVID in incarceration facilities, including how it reported vaccination plans and the implementation of them.
Austin’s NPR station features the “Hidden Figures” report. Michele and co-author William Bucknall, a PJIL student researcher, grade states on COVID data transparency, finding that Texas scores better than other states, but the bar is very low.
Using a grading rubric we developed from key metrics every state should be reporting with respect to COVID in correctional facilities, “Hidden Figures” reveals a troubling lack of transparency about data regarding the spread, toll and management of COVID-19 in state prisons, local jails and state-run juvenile facilities. The report also offers a set of recommendations on ways corrections agencies and state and local leaders could improve data transparency.
As the PLRA hits age fifteen, it is high time for us to recognize that states need to create a more sustainable and effective model of correctional oversight than the courts can provide. This oversight function is critical, and the PLRA should not be allowed to slam the iron gates shut on prisons and render their operations invisible to the public eye.