Media Contact

Armand Viscarri, ACLU of Texas, 346-299-6803, media@aclutx.org

April 23, 2020

HOUSTON— COVID-19 could claim the lives of approximately 2,030 more people in Texas than current projections specify if jail populations are not dramatically and immediately reduced, according to a new epidemiological model released today by the ACLU and academic research partners. The total U.S. death toll could be 100,000 more people than current predictions due to failures to reduce jail populations.

Four counties in Texas form part of the 20 largest jail systems in the country and appear in the model as seeing significant death increases. These include Harris County, Dallas County, Bexar County, and Tarrant County. The epidemiology model estimates that if no action is taken, more than 1,100 people will die in Texas jails within the next six months.

“As our local and state leaders get guidance on how best to handle the severity of the disease caused by novel coronavirus, it is critical that they weigh the role that jails and prisons serve as vectors for the spread of COVID-19 in both the communities inside and outside,” said Nick Hudson, policy & advocacy strategist for the ACLU of Texas. “The ACLU data model shows even if communities across the United States continue to practice social distancing and good hygiene, we will still experience much higher death rates if substantial action is not taken to reduce jail populations. This is a moment for us to recreate our justice system so it is fair, uses fiscal resources responsibly, and respects the rights of all those who come in contact with it.”

The ACLU model used data pulled from more than 1,200 midsize and large jail systems around the country, whose surrounding communities account for 90 percent of the U.S. population. It found that unequivocally, keeping people out of jail saves lives — both inside the jail and in the surrounding community.

Data from the Texas Commission on Jails Standards found that by April 21st:

  • Tarrant County reported 10 jailers or people incarcerated with the virus;
  • Bexar County reported 58 positive cases between staff members and incarcerated people;
  • Dallas Country reported 99 cases;
  • Harris County reported 195 positive cases between jailers and those incarcerated.

Between March 1st and April 1st, 2020, jail populations have gone down in the state of Texas by 14.7%. The majority of this decline is credited to reductions in pretrial detentions, but the number of deaths in Texas is expected to increase if jail populations are not reduced according to the ACLU data model.

The original data model was developed by Dr. Nina Fefferman at the University of Tennessee, Dr. Eric Lofgren at Washington State University, and Dr. Kristian Lum from the University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with Aaron Horowitz and Brooke Madubuonwu of the ACLU’s data analytics team, experts from the ACLU and other corrections organizations contributed expertise.

The full report can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/report/flattening-curve-why-reducing-jail-populations-key-beating-covid-19?redirect=covidinjails