Today, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Prison Policy Initiative released a 50-state report entitled “Failing Grades: States’ Responses to COVID-19 in Jails & Prisons.”  In the report, Wisconsin was given a grade of F+ for its response to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in state jails and prisons. 

The report shows that, despite having ample time and information to take the steps necessary to heed the warnings of experts and save the lives of those incarcerated in their prisons and jails, state governments across the country refused to adequately address the threat that the COVID-19 pandemic poses in jails and prisons. 

In the report, Wisconsin received partial points for committing to test all corrections staff and incarcerated individuals, distribute masks to staff and those incarcerated and provide daily reporting on the spread of the virus, although the state lost points for not providing a detailed breakdown of that data. Wisconsin also lost points for Gov. Tony Evers not issuing executive orders stopping jail admissions, addressing near-competition of sentences or releasing those jailed with medically vulnerable diseases.

“This report confirms what we already know to be true: Wisconsin has not done nearly enough to combat the spread of COVID-19 in our jails and prisons. The state’s failing grade reflects the glaring lack of urgency that various leaders and corrections officials have shown in their refusal to meaningfully address this crisis, even as it continues to grow in severity,” said Sean Wilson, Smart Justice Statewide Organizer for the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Wisconsin has repeatedly neglected to release vulnerable people from custody, which has endangered the health of incarcerated people, corrections staff, and members of surrounding communities. We encourage the governor and Department of Corrections to take immediate action to release vulnerable people and stop this public health catastrophe.”

The new report explains how each state ignored the pleas of incarcerated people and the warnings of medical experts. Nine of the 10 largest clusters of COVID-19 in the nation are in prisons and jails.

“Failing Grades: States’ Responses to COVID-19 in Jails & Prisons” comes at a time when COVID-19 is still decimating jails and prisons. Millions of people leave jails and prisons every year, each person serving as a vector to outside communities, as documented in a recent ACLU report. Too many facilities are still responding ineffectively in a way that further undermines public health and basic human rights. There is a key lesson to be learned: States must downsize the footprint of their criminal legal system for the sake of public health and racial justice.

A copy of the report is available below.