Risk of COVID-19 infection among prison staff in the United States

Kathryn M. Nowotny, Kapriske Seide, Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Multiple large outbreaks of COVID-19 have been documented in prisons and jails across regions of the world, with hazardous environmental conditions amplify the risks of exposure for both incarcerated people and correctional staff. The objectives of this study are to estimate the cumulative prevalence of COVID-19 cases among U.S. prison staff over time and compare it to the prison inmate population and the general U.S. population, overall, and to examine risk of COVID-19 infection among prison staff across jurisdictions. Methods: We use publicly available data (April 22, 2020 to January 15, 2021) to estimate COVID-19 crude case rates per 1000 with 95% confidence intervals over the study period for prison staff, incarcerated population, and general population. We also compare COVID-19 case rates between prison staff and the general population within jurisdictions. Results: Over the study period, prison staff have reported consistently higher rates of COVID-19 compared to the general population, with prison staff case rates more closely mirroring the incarcerated population case rates. The rolling 7-day average case rates for prison staff, prison population, and general population on January 15, 2021 were 196.04 per 1000 (95%CI 194.81, 197.26), 219.16 (95%CI 218.45, 219.86), and 69.80 (95%CI 69.78, 69.83), respectively. There was substantial heterogeneity across jurisdictions, yet in 87% of study jurisdictions, the risk of COVID-19 was significantly greater among prison staff than the general state population. Conclusions: Targeting staff for COVID-19 mitigation strategies is essential to protect the health of people who intersect with the correctional system and to flatten the curve in the surrounding communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1036
JournalBMC public health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Occupational health
  • Prisons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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