How do you collect your data?

Please see our methodology for information on how we collect data.

How accurate is your data?

Our data is self-reported by carceral agencies and reflects only the number of cases and deaths that have been identified and reported by those agencies. The true counts may be significantly higher for several reasons.

First, due to poor testing practices by many agencies, an unknown number of cases have gone undetected. While it is impossible to know just how many, high test positivity rates and case fatality rates indicate that the number of undetected cases is likely very high.

Second, carceral agencies may be concealing reported cases, and possibly COVID-related deaths. For example, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has been removing from its reported COVID-19 data test results for individuals who tested positive while in its custody but who have since been released, artificially deflating its total count. (See our report ”A crisis of undertesting: how inadequate COVID-19 detection skews the data and costs lives” for more information.) Additionally, independent reporting has found that official death counts by jails and prisons, for a variety of reasons, have likely excluded a number of COVID-related deaths.

Third, many carceral agencies have stopped reporting COVID-19 data. In these jurisdictions, even if an individual tests positive, that data has not been reported publicly and thus cannot be included in our dataset.

What makes this project distinct from others tracking COVID-19 in the carceral context?

There are a number of other organizations and initiatives, such as The Marshall Project, Vera Institute of Justice, and Prison Policy Initiative, doing the important work of collecting and reporting on COVID-19 data in carceral facilities. What sets our project apart is that we collect and report this data at the facility level, in addition to the state level. You may notice that our state-level case and death totals differ from those reported by other organizations; those discrepancies are due to differences in data collection methods.

Which jurisdictions are reporting facility-level data?

We aim to collect and report COVID-19-related facility-level data, where possible, for all prisons and jails across the country. In general, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reports COVID-19-related prison data by facility. However, not all state and county jurisdictions report data disaggregated by facility for all variables. We are also working on a detailed table of variable availability by jurisdiction. In the meantime, please consult the individual state pages to see where we have facility-level data.

Most jail jurisdictions (usually counties, but occasionally cities) do not report data at all. We plan to supplement our existing jail data by partnering with other initiatives who are directly requesting data from specific jurisdictions.

I have access to data your project is currently missing. How can I share it with you?

We collaborate with a number of external organizations who collect and share data with us to help fill gaps in our dataset, and we welcome and appreciate additional opportunities to do so. If you have access to data, and you have confirmed that we do not already collect it, we welcome you to submit data to us via this template. Please note that we only incorporate data that is updated regularly over time. Once we incorporate external data into our pipeline, we make sure to attribute the data to our contributors.

How often do you update your data?

We collect new data several times per week. However, because correctional agencies update their data according to their own often varying schedules, the date we scraped and updated data may not be precisely the same as the date it was reported by the jurisdiction. We have noted in our datasets when we last updated the data for a particular facility or jurisdiction.

Are the deaths you report those caused by COVID-19 or those from any cause?

To the extent possible, we aim to report only deaths caused by COVID-19. However, agencies differ in the categories of deaths they report as COVID-19-related. Some agencies include all deaths suspected of being related to COVID-19, and some include only those with a positive test result. Some jurisdictions do not include deaths that occur after or while someone has COVID-19 if the medical provider or examiner declares an alternative cause of death, such as a heart attack. There have also been instances where jurisdictions have not counted the deaths of people who died of COVID-19 after being released, even when they contracted the virus inside a facility. We are currently investigating suspected undercounts in COVID-19-related deaths.

Can we compare data from one jurisdiction to another?

It can be complicated to compare data between jurisdictions, because variable definitions sometimes vary. We recommend consulting the “Sources” column in our prison and jail dataset on GitHub for specific information directly from correctional agencies. It is important to note that not all jurisdictions clearly define their variables. Our team is working on harmonizing the data to the extent possible to better enable inter-state comparisons.

How do you calculate rates?

Please see our methodology section to learn how we calculate rates.

Who do you consider to be staff?

We endeavor to include data only for correctional staff who work within facility walls and exclude administrative staff, who typically do not work on site in prisons and jails. However, few agencies distinguish between different types of staff in their reporting. In these cases, we include data for all staff reported by the agency.

Why did your cumulative case or death count for a particular jurisdiction decrease?

Our data reflect the totals that correctional agencies provide on their websites, though we are occasionally able to supplement this information with public information requests and media reports. At times, correctional agencies change the data they report or the manner in which they report it, resulting in occasional fluctuations in the numbers we display.

Why don’t you report case and death rates for staff?

We do not have reliable data for staffing levels at all facilities. It is also difficult to determine how many staff are actually present in each facility (versus on leave or working in administrative offices) and whether staff work within one or multiple facilities. Due to these complexities, we are not currently providing rates for staff, but we hope to do so in the future.