New Report Claims Mass Incarceration Led to Over a Half a Million New COVID-19 Cases Nationwide
Date:  12-17-2020

The study provides the first estimates of how prisons and jails led to more coronavirus infections, both inside and outside prisons
From Prison Policy Initiative:

Over half a million COVID-19 cases this summer were directly linked to mass incarceration, a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative and Professor Gregory Hooks shows. The study provides the first estimates of how prisons and jails — which are “super spreaders” of the virus — added to COVID-19 caseloads on the county, state, and national levels, including infections of people both inside and outside prisons.

“Our findings leave no doubt that locking up millions of people in this country in close quarters has led to mass sickness and death in 2020, both in and outside of prisons,” said Hooks. “This huge growth in COVID-19 cases isn’t the fault of incarcerated people; it’s the fault of tough-on-crime politicians who insist that mass incarceration is necessary to keep us safe.”

In the study, titled Mass Incarceration, COVID-19, and Community Spread, Hooks compared the population density of incarcerated people in U.S. counties to the growth in COVID-19 cases in those counties over the summer of 2020. To get a more direct measure of community spread across county lines, he also measured the impact on county caseloads from prison and jail populations held in nearby counties located within the same multi-county economic areas. The findings include:

  • At the county level: Over the summer of 2020, large prisons and jail populations within nonmetro counties (i.e. rural areas or those with small cities) directly contributed to higher COVID-19 caseloads in those counties.

  • At the regional level: COVID-19 caseloads grew much more quickly over the summer among counties in greater economic areas containing large prisons and jails.

  • At the national level: Mass incarceration led to more than half a million additional COVID-19 cases nationwide – or about 1 in 8 of all new cases – over the summer. The report, written to be accessible to a general audience, includes graphics illustrating the major findings, as well as several tables listing the number of COVID-19 cases attributable to mass incarceration in the most heavily impacted states and economic areas. Additional appendix tables provide estimates of additional cases linked to incarceration for every county, economic area, and state in the U.S.

    Read the full report here.