A heartbreaking study discovered that at least 18 people
died in Texas
prisons from COVID-19
complications after being approved for parole
during the first 12 months of the pandemic
According to research
published Thursday by the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University
of Texas at Austin
, an additional two dozen inmates granted parole died behind bars, largely due to chronic health issues unrelated to COVID-19.
“Despite being approved for parole, some [inmates] will never walk out the prison gates because they die while waiting for release,” the report titled “Dead Man Waiting” stated.
According to the report, a “significant period of delay between parole approval and parole release is built into the current design of the Texas parole system.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, this lag has been especially lethal.
Beginning last year, prisoner rights advocates pleaded in vain with state officials to immediately release those who had been approved for parole as the pandemic raged through prisons across America
, killing hundreds in Texas.
Thousands of inmates are approved for parole in Texas at any given time, but they must first complete rehab, treatment, or life skills training before they can be released, and some wait for more than a year.
The Texas Tribune reported that delays increased during COVID-19 due to the postponement of pre-release programs.
“Some of these people were eligible [for release] months and months and months ago, and they’re still there,” Jorge Renaud, Southwest Regional Director of Policy and Advocacy for LatinoJustice, told the outlet last year.
According to the report, before the coronavirus
outbreak in March 2020, a person granted parole stayed in prison for an average of three to four months before being released.
According to the report, 11 people who died in prison during the pandemic had been approved for parole more than a year before.
Even before COVID-19, people died in Texas prisons after technically winning their freedom; at least 26 people died in 2019 after being granted parole, according to the study, and at least 18 people who had already been granted parole died of the virus before they could leave in the first year of the pandemic.
“While COVID has dramatically exacerbated this problem, the data also indicates that this phenomenon is not unique to the pandemic era,” according to the report.
According to data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
, approximately 10,800 people in Texas prisons — roughly 9% of the total prison population — had already been approved for parole in April
According to the study, nearly 900 people had been waiting for more than a year to be released, with more than one-quarter having been granted parole at least six months earlier.
In 2019, less than one-quarter of those granted parole were released right away.
Gov. Greg Abbott
(R) resisted calls to release parolees sooner or allow prisoners to complete their sentences in home detention, as Donald Trump
's former lawyer Michael Cohen
was allowed to do. "Releasing dangerous criminals on the streets is not the solution," Abbott said of the virus threat in prisons and jails.
We want to prevent the spread of #COVID19 among prison staff and inmates, but releasing dangerous criminals on the streets is not the solution. #txlege #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/GEEB4icIUj — Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) March 30, 2020
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