Prison Deaths

About the series

More than 240 people incarcerated in California prisons have died during the pandemic from COVID-19, including 18 at the only state prison in San Diego County.

inewsource investigative reporters Jill Castellano and Mary Plummer used medical examiner reports, death certificates and interviews to uncover what led to the deaths at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa. Three of those who died were found in their cells. Families of Donovan prisoners told inewsource they didn’t learn their relatives had COVID-19 until after they had died.

Jill Castellano is an investigative data reporter at inewsource. She has worked for The Salt Lake Tribune, The Desert Sun and USA TODAY, and she earned a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting in 2018 for her work on the deaths of undocumented border crossers. At inewsource, she has covered campaign finance, criminal justice, public health and veterans issues.

Listen to the investigation

More than 1,000 prisoners at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Eighteen inmates died during an outbreak at the facility this winter. Three of those who died were found unresponsive in their cells, despite corrections officials saying inmates with COVID-19 were being regularly monitored and cared for. At least five inmates who died of COVID-19 at Donovan state prison passed before their families were informed of them being ill.

Prison Deaths:
A Two-part Investigation