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May 06, 2020

U.S. Reps. David Trone, Hakeem Jeffries Lead Members to Urge Nation’s Governors to Release Demographic Data on COVID-19 Health Outcomes and Release Programs at State and Local Prisons

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Hannah Muldavin, Hannah.Muldavin@mail.house.gov

U.S. Reps. David Trone, Hakeem Jeffries Lead Members to Urge Nation’s Governors to Release Demographic Data on COVID-19 Health Outcomes and Release Programs at State and Local Prisons

WASHINGTON – As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates in our nation’s prisons and jails, U.S. Representatives David Trone (MD-06) and Chairman of the Democratic Caucus Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08) launched a new effort to urge the nation’s governors to collect and release demographic data related to health outcomes in prisons and prison release programs that help decrease the spread of COVID-19. The release programs allow incarcerated individuals to be released under community monitoring or home confinement because they are non-violent and pose minimal risk of recidivism.

Trone and Jeffries assembled a coalition of more than 20 Members of Congress to send the request to the National Governors Association (NGA) Chair Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Vice Chair New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. In the letter, the Members also point out the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 mortality rates on African-American communities and communities of color and how these structural conditions and health care disparities are only exacerbated in correctional settings.

“African-Americans and Latinos are dying at a higher rate from COVID-19, and they are also overrepresented in our nation’s criminal justice system,” said Congressman Trone. “We need to see the data to understand the realities of how our criminal justice system is treating our incarcerated population during this pandemic. I want to thank Chairman Jeffries for leading this effort with me and Governors Hogan and Cuomo for their continued partnership during this global pandemic.”

“The well-documented existence of racial and ethnic disparities in America’s prison system is not a new problem, but its implications have become even more serious in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Congressman Jeffries. “The data we are requesting will give policymakers throughout the nation a clearer picture of what needs to be done to protect vulnerable incarcerated individuals and ensure that they are not left behind in our response to this public health crisis. I commend Congressman Trone for his leadership in this regard.”

Rep. Trone and Chairman Jeffries were joined by 19 other Members in sending the letter, including: Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Earl Blumenauer  (OR-03), Deb Haaland (NM-01), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Bobby L. Rush (IL-01), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Gerald E. Connolly (VA-11), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Jason Crow (CO-06), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), Joseph P. Kennedy, III (MA-04), Bennie Thompson (MS-02), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Ted Deutch (FL-22), and Tony Cárdenas (CA-29).

See below for the text of the letter:

Dear Governor Hogan and Governor Cuomo:

The nation’s governors have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you for your leadership during these challenging and uncertain times. We write to ask that you, as Chair and Vice Chair of the National Governors Association, encourage your fellow governors to direct officials in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and U.S. territories to collect demographic data by race, ethnicity, gender and disability on testing and outcomes in our incarcerated population.

As states have begun to release data on COVID-19 infection and mortality rates, we have seen the alarming and disproportionate impact the virus has had on communities of color, particularly African Americans. This crisis threatens us all, but the significant racial disparities among those infected with, hospitalized with, or killed by this disease point to deeper issues of discrimination in our country.

The risks for communities of color during this public health crisis are compounded. African-Americans and Latinos are vastly overrepresented in our nation’s prisons and jails, they serve longer sentences, and they are more likely to be held in pre-trial detention and to be re-incarcerated for technical violations. The structural conditions and health care disparities that have put minority communities at greater risk of infection and serious complication outside of prison walls are only exacerbated in correctional settings. Forty percent of inmates suffer from a chronic health condition, such as asthma or diabetes. Well before we knew the scope of this pandemic, public health experts noted the perfect storm that awaited us: the inability to socially distance, overcrowding, and lack of cleaning and hygiene products would make prisons and jails particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, while testing and quality health care would remain mostly inaccessible.

For these reasons, we must work to address the COVID-19 disparities within state and local prisons and jails across the country. We commend your efforts to ensure the health and wellbeing of incarcerated men and women in your states as well as the implementation of best practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. But data collection among public safety and correctional agencies should also be shared publicly so that we can first have a fuller understanding of the challenge we face with regard to infections in these environments, and then use that data to guide our response. Public attention has recently focused on the importance of understanding the demographics behind COVID-19 infections. It is essential that we not leave the incarcerated population out of those efforts.

We are encouraged to see many states addressing the COVID-19 corrections crisis by enabling vulnerable incarcerated people who are non-violent and pose minimal likelihood of recidivism to be released under community monitoring or serve their sentences in home confinement. As with the collection and release of demographic data related to testing and COVID-19 health outcomes, we must ensure that release programs are executed fairly and do not create racial disparities in who is ultimately granted release from local prisons during this public health crisis.

While we and other colleagues in the House pursue the release of this data for federal prisons, we would greatly appreciate your help in urging state and local officials to do the same for their prisons and jails.

We thank you both for considering this request and for your help in this important effort.

Sincerely,

Congressman David Trone was elected to the House of Representatives in November 2018 to serve the 6th District of Maryland, which includes all or part of Montgomery, Frederick, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties. Trone has worked with the ACLU for over 20 years on reforming the criminal justice system, and in March urged the Bureau of Prisons to release coronavirus response plans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Trone serves on the Education and Labor, Foreign Affairs, and Joint Economic Committees, where he is fighting to make progress on issues that matter to Marylanders, including the opioid epidemic, criminal justice reform, and funding for medical research. 

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