April 23 (UPI) -- The number of deaths in the United States to the coronavirus may end up being double the Trump administration's projections unless prison populations are reduced, the American Civil Liberties Union warned.
President Donald Trump and his Coronavirus Task Force projected in late March between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths to the virus but a new epidemiological study released Wednesday by the non-profit organization and its academic partners said the White House could be off by 100,000 due to the omission of jails from most public models.
"Numbers used by the Trump administration largely fail to consider several factors that will explosively increase the loss of life unless drastic reforms are adopted to reduce the nation's jail populations," the report said.
Those overlooked factors include: the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, making models based on data from other countries understate deaths; U.S. jails and prisons are overcrowded and "substantially inferior" to those of European and other Western nations; and jails can act as vectors for disease due to the high number of people they discharge daily back into communities.
"As a result of the constant movement between jails and the broader community, our jails will act as vectors for the COVID-19 pandemic in our communities," the report said. "They will become veritable volcanoes for the spread of the virus."
The report concludes the social distancing measures adopted by the larger society will be ineffective unless they are extended to incarceration facilities as well.
To prevent this from occurring, the ACLU called on officials to swiftly reduce detention facility populations.
The report was published a week after three states and Washington, D.C., recorded their first inmate deaths from COVID-19.
The ACLU has been pushing for states to release inmates vulnerable to the coronavirus.
The report is based on data from more than 1,200 midsize and large jail systems whose surrounding communities account for 90 percent of the U.S. population.
"Keeping people out of jail saves lives -- both inside the jail and in the surrounding community," the ACLU said in a statement. "Lives are at stake. The time to act is now."