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New outbreaks push inmate coronavirus cases past 50,000

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The number of prison inmates testing positive for the coronavirus soared well past the 50,000 mark last month, as recent outbreaks threatened to undo control measures put in place earlier in the pandemic.

At the end of June, the total number of coronavirus cases among prisoners had reached at least 52,649, an increase of 8% from the week before, according to data compiled by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focusing on criminal justice, and The Associated Press.

Of those, at least 35,796 have recovered, and at least 616 inmates have died, the data showed.

Among staff, more than 11,180 cases of coronavirus have been reported, including 43 deaths.

As of June 30, only Wyoming and Hawaii still had not identified any confirmed cases of coronavirus among prisoners.

New cases in prisons began to drop last month, with less of the rapid growth seen in the spring when Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and other states began mass testing of prisoners, the data shows.

But by the end of June, new outbreaks in Arkansas, California and Texas began to push the numbers up again.

The rising cases in prisons is mirroring a large increase in cases across the U.S., where there have been some 50,000 total per day over the past few days and hot spots are exploding in multiple states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas.

Prisons have been of specific concern because of social distancing worries, and the fear that outbreaks inside crowded facilities can affect surrounding communities as employees and vendors come and go.

The federal Bureau of Prisons recorded the most inmate deaths at 94. Ohio led states with the most deaths, with 86 reported through the end of June. More than 5,000 federal inmates have tested positive.

Coronavirus outbreaks in prison are an indictment of mass incarceration in the U.S., with many systems warehousing people in situations that make social distancing impossible, said Nicole Porter, director of advocacy for The Sentencing Project.

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