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Report: For every 1,000 people incarcerated in Colorado prisons, 557 have contracted COVID-19

A new report released by the Colorado Health Institute details how rampant the spread of COVID-19 has been in jails and prisons.

COLORADO, USA — More than 16,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed inside prisons and jails in Colorado since the pandemic began, according to a new report published by the Colorado Health Institute. The report gives the public the clearest picture we’ve seen into just how rampant the spread of the virus has been inside correctional facilities.

Of the 20 largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the state, 15 have occurred inside prisons and jails. Thousands of inmates have been infected and dozens have died.

Julia Char Gilbert is a research Analyst at the Colorado Health Institute. The new report she published this week shines a light on the pandemic raging inside prison walls.

"An alarming number of people in jails and prisons in Colorado have contracted COVID-19," said Char Gilbert. "For every 1,000 people incarcerated in Colorado prisons, 557 prisoners have contracted COVID-19."

A total of 16,177 cases have been reported inside correctional and detention facilities. Nearly 14,000 of those are inmates while the rest are staff. 31 inmates and one staff member have died, according to the new report compiled with public data from the Department of Corrections, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

In some facilities, the percentage of people who have been infected is extremely high. 

"For example, the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility is one of six state prisons in which the number of inmates infected with COVID-19 since the pandemic began exceeds more than 80% of the total inmate population," said Char Gilbert. 

Denise Maes is the Public Policy Director with the ACLU of Colorado. She’s fought to try and decrease the prison population during the pandemic by asking the governor to safely release some inmates.  

"Any risk in that prison is a risk to all of us," said Maes. "Individuals who are incarcerated cannot adhere to any of the CDC guidelines. There is no such thing as six-feet distancing. Everything they do really involves being in close quarters."

Inmates in Colorado are not given priority when it comes to receiving the vaccine. The ACLU says that’s a mistake that makes being incarcerated right now even more dangerous.

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"Right now in Colorado individuals over 70 are eligible for the vaccine," said Maes. "So therefore individuals over 70 that are incarcerated are eligible for the vaccine. That’s a really small percentage."

The study found that one in 24 COVID-19 cases in the state since the pandemic began is linked back to prisons and jails. The only setting where more COVID-19 cases have been reported is inside long term care facilities and nursing homes.