Report: More Than 16,000 Incarcerated Coloradans Have Gotten COVID-19, With 32 Dead

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Inside Denver’s downtown detention center. Oct. 11, 2018.

More than 16,000 people have contracted COVID-19 in Colorado’s prisons, jails, and other detention facilities since the start of the pandemic, and 32 have died, according to a report released Thursday by the Colorado Health Institute.

Researchers looked at people incarcerated in county jails, state prisons, federal prisons and the ICE detention facility in Aurora in 2020.

While the people in these institutions come and go, researchers found that as of late January, for every 1,000 people incarcerated in Colorado, 557 had been sickened with COVID-19.

“Regardless of the circumstances leading up to one’s incarceration or detention, exposure to a life-threatening illness (with the potential for long-term health effects) is not part of their prison sentence or terms of detention,” the report said.

The outbreaks in Colorado’s prisons and jails are second only to outbreaks in long-term care facilities, according to the report. There have been 22,620 cases in long-term facilities.

Currently, Gov. Jared Polis doesn’t mention incarcerated people in his vaccination plans and state officials have said people serving time will get the vaccine depending on their age — similar to other Coloradans.

All but 10 states — Colorado, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin — specifically mention incarcerated people in their vaccine distribution plans. Nebraska and New Mexico include incarcerated people in their second waves of distribution, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, an advocacy group.