Grading COVID-19 data inside prisons, jails and juvenile centers — where Texas ranks

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Grading COVID-19 data inside prisons

AUSTIN (KXAN)– It’s fairly simple now to track COVID-19 cases by demographic in Travis County, thanks to Austin Public Health’s dashboard.

But the same isn’t necessarily the case for jails and prisons in the state.

A new report from the University of Texas at Austin[1] found transparency is very low across the country.

The research team gave Texas a “C+” for data transparency for prisons and a “D” for tracking in local jails and juvenile facilities.

Michele Deitch, co-author of the report, says that’s because while Texas tracks data, there are gaps.

“There’s no way to break down the numbers of tests or cases or deaths by people’s age or race or gender or ethnicity, which means that we don’t know whether the responses that are being taken to COVID are equitable,” Deitch explains.

She also says that means there’s little data on how effective those COVID-19 policy responses have been at all.

The fact that Texas reports basic information at all earned them a better grade than many other states.[2]

You can see the “F”s across the board in this map, for example, ranking data transparency in local jails:

Texas is one of only three states that doesn’t a unified corrections system and still collects and reports statewide COVID data about jails. (Source: Hidden Figures report[3])

But Deitch says it’s not hard to be one of the top COVID-19 reporting states for prisons, jails and juvenile facilities because there’s a very low bar.

Deitch and her team outline several data points they hope state and local leaders will push to require, including the number of inmates who are both partially and fully vaccinated and population changes during COVID.

“Policymakers, stakeholders, the public, people who are incarcerated and their family members– they don’t know whether people who are in custody, and the staff who work in those facilities, whether they’re safe during this public health crisis,” says Deitch.

She also says without more data inside these facilities, we don’t know what the risks are to surrounding communities, either.

Deitch also hopes greater transparency can become something permanent, for things like tracking suicides or assaults.

Tahera Rahman


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