Mass incarceration linked to almost 13% of all COVID-19 cases from May through July

New study shows prisons and jails caused huge increase in COVID-19 cases nationally

A new study released this month estimated that mass incarceration was linked to 560,000 (almost 13 percent) of COVID-19 cases in three months (May-August). Prison Policy Initiative (December 2020)

Jails and prisons are not only hotspots for cases but considered incubators for community spread due to the high transmission within the walls and employees who go in and out between the free community. Especially in prisons, the COVID-19 virus comes from outside through the guards since the inmates are not interacting with the world.

The study found:

  • Over the summer of 2020, large prisons and jail populations within rural areas or those with small cities directly contributed to higher COVID-19 caseloads in those counties.

  • COVID-19 caseloads grew much more quickly over the summer among counties containing large prisons and jails.

  • Mass incarceration led to about 1 in 8 of all new cases over the summer.

“Even though the COVID-19 vaccine is rolling out, it will be months before the virus stops cycling through correctional facilities, and the action states have taken so far has not been enough to slow it down. So far, we’ve seen that too many lawmakers don’t care enough about people in prison to take action on their behalf, but our findings show that failing to reduce prison populations during the pandemic has led to more people outside prison getting sick as well,” Wendy Sawyer, Prison Policy Initiative research director and co-author of the study, said in a press release.

“What is needed immediately, at the policy level, is an increased use of clemency, parole expansion, and other legal mechanisms to depopulate prisons and stop the virus from spreading behind bars,” the study concluded.

Read more about how incarceration was linked to earlier outbreaks of COVID-19 in places where there were jails and prisons here.



COVID-19 resources: State policy changesNewsBureau of Prisons updatesState court changesPrison holistic self care and protection.

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