An increase in deaths across the country in the past year, past the well-known Covid-19 toll, has led health experts to suggest that some virus cases have gone undiagnosed or have been attributed to other causes. There have also been inconsistencies and changing guidelines on which deaths should be considered coronavirus deaths.

Public health officials say the prospect of missed deaths from viruses linked to the country’s prisons, jails and immigration prisons is particularly risky. It is a challenge, say the experts, to prepare prisons for future epidemics without knowing the full toll. Currently, most of the publicly known death tolls related to incarceration have come from the facilities themselves.

“You can’t make good public policy if you don’t know what’s actually going on on the ground,” said Sharon Dolovich, director of the Covid Behind Bars Data Project at the University of California at Los Angeles, which tracks coronavirus deaths in American prisons .

Prison and prison officials defended their methods of counting inmate deaths from coronavirus, saying they followed all state and local documentation requirements. Some noted that their role was to track deaths in “custody” and suggested that including the deaths of those recently in their care but no longer in their care is both complex and complex It would be impractical and possibly even overstate the number of virus cases related to the facilities.

“It is unfair to expect prisons to somehow take responsibility for what happens to people when they are released from our custody,” said Kathy Hieatt, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Beach Sheriffs Office that held Mr. Melius. “We follow law and the Virginia Department of Corrections’s extensive standards for investigating and reporting those who die in custody. In no way is it necessary to report deaths of former inmates. ”She added,“ It is absurd to think that we could somehow keep an eye on these thousands of people and take responsibility for them. ”

Throughout the pandemic, prison systems have used different methods to publicly report Covid-19-related deaths. Nevada’s prisons say they notify state health officials of inmate deaths from Covid-19 but do not make them public. Mississippi prison authorities said no inmates had died from the coronavirus at their facilities before announcing in January that nearly two dozen prisoner deaths were related to Covid-19.


July 13, 2021 at 4:53 p.m. ET

And in Texas, a prison medical committee is re-examining any case where a coroner said Covid-19 was one of the causes of death and has sometimes overridden previous findings, according to Jeremy Desel, a spokesman for the state prison system. Shelia Bradley, a 53-year-old prisoner, was reported to have died by a coroner as of “bacterial and possibly fungal pneumonia, a complication of Covid-19”, but the committee concluded that she died of “acute bacterial bronchopneumonia”. without listing Covid-19.