Incarceration and COVID-19

August 1, 2020

Written By: Cathryn Richmond and Kristina McGuire

In partnership with:

Incarceration and COVID-19 in the U.S.

More than 2.2. million people are incarcerated in the U.S.; this is more people than in any other country and over half of these individuals are incarcerated for non-violent offenses. Incarcerated populations, correctional staff, and their families are at an especially increased risk to become infected with COVID-19, as the prison environment does not lend itself to be protective against illness. There have been over 78,500 cases of COVID-19 in the prison population. As of July 30, 2020, 766 prisoners have died because of COVID-19. Juveniles in detention centers are also contracting COVID-19; as of July 24, 2020, 1,310 juveniles have tested positive in youth facilities and 1,550 staff in these facilities have tested positive.

  1. Jails and prisons are not equipped for social distancing due to overcrowding and shared ventilation.
  2. Justice-involved populations experience poor sanitation, substandard health care, and a lack of adequate health care supplies, including hand sanitizer due to its alcohol content.

Despite calls for reducing the number of persons who are incarcerated during COVID-19, the release of individuals from prisons has lagged behind the pace of release from jails. COVID-19 compounds existing sanitation and health concerns in detention centers, jails, and prisons, making the need for action more critical than ever.


​Recommendations for Policymakers to Consider​



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