Incarcerated Texans are dying from COVID-19 at a rate 35% higher than rest of the U.S. prison population, UT study finds

Incarcerated men at the Telford Unit, a prison in New Boston Texas near the Oklahoma border, have suffered 9% of the reported prison COVID-19 deaths in Texas prisons. Credit: Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune
Incarcerated men at the Telford Unit, a prison in New Boston Texas near the Oklahoma border, have suffered 9% of the reported prison COVID-19 deaths in Texas prisons. Credit: Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

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With over 23,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Texas’ prisons, incarcerated Texans are testing positive at a rate 40% higher than the national prison population average, according to a new report from the University of Texas at Austin.

And with at least 190 inmate deaths linked to the virus, the state’s death rates are 35% higher than the rest of the U.S. prison population, the report found.

Texas, which has the largest population of people behind bars in the country, has led the nation for most COVID-19 prison and jail deaths of any system in the country. Texas’ infection rate in prison, per 10,000 people, is the second highest in the nation, behind Florida; and the state is tied for No. 3 for highest death rate linked to the virus.

“There has been a devastating impact from COVID on our state’s prisons and jails and we can’t just look away,” said Michele Deitch, the lead researcher. “Every one of those numbers is a life that was lost.”

The grim numbers are also almost certainly undercounts. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice counts COVID-19 fatalities after final autopsies, which can take three to six months to complete, compared to a preliminary autopsy which might happen within two weeks.

Some people have also died without being tested for COVID-19, while others died from preexisting conditions worsened by the virus, which aren’t always captured by the official toll.

“These numbers are shocking on their face, but even these numbers do not capture the devastating toll of COVID on our prisons and jails,” Deitch said.