Michele Deitch Publishes Major Report on COVID-19 Devastation in Texas Prisons and Jails

A new report from the LBJ School of Public Affairs reveals that Texas has had more COVID-19 infections and deaths among incarcerated people and staff than any other state in the country. Professor Michele Deitch, who holds a joint appointment as a distinguished senior lecturer at the LBJ School and the School of Law, is the study’s lead author.

LBJ School Design
Cover page of the COVID and Corrections study.

“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on prisons and jails across the country, and especially in Texas,” said Prof. Deitch. “The data in this report fills a significant gap in our knowledge base and
 can be used as a starting place for discussion about potential policy solutions.”

The report, titled “COVID and Corrections: A Profile of COVID Deaths in Custody,” has found that people in Texas prisons are testing positive for COVID at a rate 490% higher than for the state of Texas as a whole, and at a rate 35% higher than the rest of the U.S. prison population. The study has also found that 80% of people who died from COVID in county jails in Texas were pretrial and not yet convicted of a crime.

Other key findings include:

  • Texas has the largest overall number of infections and deaths in prison. Even when researchers adjust for size, Texas still has the second-highest rate of COVID infections and is tied for the third-highest proportion of its prison population that has died from COVID, among the 10 largest prison systems.
  • Texas has had significantly more staff deaths from COVID than any other prison system.
  • 80% of people who died from COVID-19 in county jails in Texas were pretrial and not convicted of a crime.
  • Other states that started off with a higher number of COVID-19 prison deaths have been dramatically more successful in reducing deaths than Texas.
  • Seven Texas prisons (out of a total of 106) account for over half of the COVID-19 deaths in prison in Texas.
  • In one Texas prison facility—the Duncan Unit—almost 6% of the incarcerated population has died.
  • Over 80% of people who died from COVID in Texas prisons were over age 55.
  • 21 people died in prison with less than two years remaining on their sentence.
  • 58% of the people who died from COVID in Texas prisons were eligible for parole at the time of their death.
  • Nine people died in prison who were approved for parole but not yet released

The report has made national headlines since last week’s publication, including in The New York Times, Associated Press, NPR, The Washington Post, CNN, and USA Today. Locally, The Texas Tribune, and the Texas Standard have reported on the findings and interviewed Deitch.

View the original report here.