prison COVID-19
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COVID-19 cases and deaths in federal and state prisons are significantly higher than in the general US population, according to researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found that COVID-19 prison cases are 5.5 times higher than the general U.S. with a prisoner case rate of 3,251 per 100,000 residents as compared to 587 cases per 100,000 in the general population.

It was also found that the COVID-19 prison death rate was three times higher than that of the U.S. population, with 39 deaths per 100,000 prison residents as compared to 587 cases per 100,000 in the general population.

The study analysed cases and deaths from March 31 to June 6, 2020 and found that COVID-19 cases in prisons increased by 8.3% per day compared to 3.4% in the general population.

Healthcare in prisons

Prison populations are especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 due to close confinement, limited access to PPE, and high rates of preexisting respiratory and cardiac conditions.

Lead author Brendan Saloner, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School said: “While these numbers are striking, we actually think the disparities within prisons is much greater, some prisons are not reporting any cases, others are not even testing inmates, so the need for policies to protect incarcerated populations is more important than ever.”

“Prisoners have a right to adequate protection of their health while incarcerated. The reality of these findings shows that we aren’t coming anywhere close to meeting their basic needs. Ultimately, it creates a dangerous situation for the inmates, prison staff, the communities that prisons are located in, and in our overall effort to contain the crisis.”

The researchers collaborated with the UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, a new initiative based at the University of California, Los Angeles–led by senior author, Sharon Dolovich, JD, PhD, at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law–that collects data on prisoners in state and federal prisons.

For their analysis of COVID-19 deaths, the researchers drew from information available from departments of corrections and external medical examiner reports. Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the researchers were able to gather state-level data about COVID-19 cases, deaths, and demographics for the general U.S. population.


“COVID-19 Cases and Deaths In Federal and State Prisons” was written by Brendan Saloner, Kalind Parish, Julie A. Ward, Grace DiLaura, and Sharon Dolovich.

The findings were published online in a research letter July 8 in JAMA.



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