Carceral epidemiology: mass incarceration and structural racism during the COVID-19 pandemic

Katherine LeMasters, Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, Morgan Maner, Meghan Peterson, Kathryn Nowotny, Zinzi Bailey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing epidemic of mass incarceration are closely intertwined, as COVID-19 entered US prisons and jails at astounding rates. Although observers warned of the swiftness with which COVID-19 could devastate people who are held and work in prisons and jails, their warnings were not heeded quickly enough. Incarcerated populations were deprioritised, and COVID-19 infected and killed those in jails and prisons at rates that outpaced the rates among the general population. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted what has been long-known: mass incarceration is a key component of structural racism that creates and exacerbates health inequities. It is imperative that the public health, particularly epidemiology, public policy, advocacy, and medical communities, are catalysed by the COVID-19 pandemic to drastically rethink the USA's criminal legal system and the public health emergency that it has created and to push for progressive reform.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e287-e290
JournalThe Lancet Public Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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