Lex Blog: The new death penalty: COVID has now killed more than 500 US prisoners and prison staff according to UCLA Law data

A terrifying post from academic Douglas A. Berman……….. In this post a few weeks ago, I noted what might be called a new kind of death penalty for prison and jail inmates in the United States: by killing many hundreds of incarcerated persons, COVID-19 has turned all sorts of other sentences into functional death sentences.  In that prior posting, I flagged that the UCLA Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project, as of May 11, had tabulated 341 “Confirmed Deaths (Residents),” and I highlighted that this meant COVID in a few months had produced more prisoner deaths than had been produced by carrying out formal death sentences in the United States for the entire period from 2010 to 2020.

As I put together my prior post, I was thinking about the inaptness of the COVID/capital punishment comparison because the death penalty is not lethal for prison staff.  But sadly, dozens of prison staff have now also been killed as a result of the toxic combination of the coronavirus and modern mass incarceration.  With these additional victims in mind, especially just after Memorial Day, I thought it important to note that, according to this UCLA Law data spreadsheet, we have now passed a notable grim milestone for combined deaths of prison staff and prisoners.  Specifically, as of May 27, the folks at UCLA are reporting a total of 42 “Confirmed Deaths (Staff)” and 459 “Confirmed Deaths (Residents).”

Of course, 500 is just a round number and every single one of these deaths is individually sad and disconcerting.  I sincerely hope that, somehow, we might be getting past the worst of this pandemic that has (predictably) already been quite lethal for persons in and around prisons and jails.  I also hope I won’t have another major lethal milestone to document anytime soon, but it is probably foolish to ever been too hopeful about developments in incarceration nation.

A few prior recent related posts: