COVID-19 cases and testing in 53 prison systems

Katherine Lemasters, Erin McCauley, Kathryn Nowotny, Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: COVID-19 has entered United States prison systems at alarming rates. Disparities in social and structural determinants of health disproportionately affect those experiencing incarceration, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19. Additionally, prisons are sites of congregate living, making it impossible to practice social distancing, and most prisons have relied only on incremental measures to reduce risk and spread of COVID-19. To more fully understand the impact that COVID-19 is having on incarcerated populations, it is critical to have systematic data on testing, test positivity, cases, and case fatality. Using data from the COVID Prison Project, we present data on 53 prison systems COVID-19 testing, test positivity, case, and case fatality by state and compare these data with each state’s general population. We do this for the early stages of the pandemic, utilizing data through July 15, 2020. Results: Many states are not reporting full information on COVID testing with some also not reporting on case fatality. Among those reporting data, there is a wide variation between testing, test positivity, and case rates within prison systems and as compared to the general population. However, when more tests are deployed more cases are identified with the majority of state prisons having higher case rates than their general population. Conclusions: These findings underscore the need for the implementation and study of COVID-19 mitigation and surveillance strategies to flatten the COVID-19 curve in prisons across the country. We call for future research to build on these data from the COVID Prison Project to protect the health of our nations’ often forgotten residents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number24
JournalHealth and Justice
Volume8
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Keywords

  • COVID-19, health disparities
  • Mass incarceration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Law

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