Inmate deaths associated with COVID-19 more than doubled in Colorado prisons this month, underscoring continuing scrutiny over whether enough has been done to help slow the virus’s spread behind bars.
A total of 24 prisoners have died after showing symptoms of the disease or testing positive, up from 11 as of Dec. 1, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections.
Among the new deaths were four in the past week, disclosed on the state prison system’s COVID-19 website and first reported by The Colorado Sun.
The fatalities come as the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado pressed a Denver District judge this month to compel Gov. Jared Polis and the state prison system to release medically vulnerable inmates who aren’t considered a threat to public safety. The civil liberties watchdog has also pushed to move prisoners up the priority list for vaccines after state health officials reversed a draft distribution plan that called for them to get early access because of increased risk. The ACLU previously settled a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Corrections, securing additional protections for inmates.
Colorado prisons housed 14,100 inmates as of Nov. 30, down from 17,412 inmates in March, and prison officials say they have implemented numerous precautions to try to limit the coronavirus spread, including providing masks to inmates and staff.
The state website shows the number of inmates with active coronavirus infections has dropped significantly, down to 844 from roughly 1,900 inmates in mid-December.
All four of the inmates who died in the past week had symptoms consistent with COVID-19, according to the website, but no information was provided about whether they tested positive for the disease. The state prison system does not identify inmates who die, citing privacy considerations.
A 62-year-old from the Bent County Correctional Facility died Dec. 23 at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs. The inmate was admitted Dec. 6.
A 57-year-old inmate who had originally been in the Four Mile Correctional Center died Dec. 24 at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility Infirmary. The inmate had been hospitalized at two different Colorado hospitals since Dec. 7. The hospital discharged the inmate Dec. 21.
A 70-year-old inmate from the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility died Dec. 24 at Kindred Hospital Aurora. The inmate was admitted to the Parkview Hospital on Nov. 8 before being transferred to the Aurora hospital.
A 57-year-old inmate from the Arrowhead Correctional Center died Dec. 26 at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs. The inmate was admitted to Penrose on Dec. 12 with COVID-like symptoms.