Covid-19 and mass incarceration in the United States

Covid-19 and mass incarceration in the United States

The United States have the highest rate of Covid-19 cases and largest incarcerated population in the world. The “Covid Prison Project” outlines how this pandemic is impacting the incarcerated people in the all 50 States of the United States. As of 12th January 2022, the covid-19 cases among the incarcerated in prisons are 476,484 and death rates of incarcerated individuals in prisons are 2,740. However, Covid-19 cases among staff working in prisons are 152,135 and death rates of staff working in prisons are 259.The incarcerated people in the United States are more at risk than the non-incarcerated people due to overcrowding, inadequate testing, mistrust of medical personnel, lack of personal protective sanitation and detention of innocent incarcerated people.

Covid-19 effects on incarcerated people

Prisons are hotspot for Covid-19, however, the incarcerated people have the same right for the health facilities as anyone else. Covid-19 is badly affecting the incarceration rates as they are twice and thrice time at risk than the non-incarcerated people. Testing capacity and the supply of personal protective equipment are already constrained, and incarcerated people are rarely a priority. It is worth mentioning that “Department of Justice” of the United States made a crucial decision that Federal inmates released on home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic to stay out of the incarceration. Furthermore, in the final days of the Trump government, Department of Justice said released prisoners would have to return to the incarceration at the end of the emergency period confirmed during the pandemic. Approximately, 3,000 previous prisoners would have been taken back to the incarceration.

Convenient ways of spreading covid-19 among the incarcerated people

People in prison live in settings in close proximity and thus may act as a source of infection, amplification and spread of infectious diseases within and beyond prisons. Prisoners are typically very unsanitary, overcrowded and they don’t have the access to the running water. In such circumstances, regular hand washing and social distancing are impossible to achieve. Prisoners share toilets, bathrooms, sinks, and dining halls. They are mostly sleeping in bunk beds; in some states they sleep crammed together on the floor. These settings are in no way equipped to deal with an outbreak once it gets in. In this situation, it is very difficult to find areas where prisoners with suspected COVID-19 can be isolated.

Alternative ways of protecting incarcerated people

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has encouraged governments to release incarcerated people, who are particularly vulnerable to Covid -19 such as older people, as well as well as low risk offenders. During this pandemic, imprisonment should be the last resort especially when the nature of the cases are not serious. De-incarceration has to be the foremost strategy here, diverting drug offenders to evidence based treatment programs can assist to reduce the Covid-19 cases.

Covid-19 from incarceration to the Community

It is not surprising that the rate of Covid-19 in prisons would be so much higher than in the general population. Correctional facilities are overcrowded and have long been the theater of contagious disease epidemics, from tuberculosis to influenza, to HIV. The spread of coronavirus are not only affecting the incarcerated people but in the broader communities to which inmates and jails are connected. It is crucial to mention that incarceration is not a places where you lock people up and they are separate from the community. They are in constant interrelation with communities. Moreover, the correctional staff who work in the facilities and then return home, and it’s easy to understand how incarceration didn’t just spread large Covid-19 outbreaks, but vectors from which the virus spread into the surrounding communities.

Infringement of fundamental rights of incarcerated people during pandemic

People deprived of their liberty, such as people in prisons and other places of detention, are more vulnerable to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. It created intensifying pressure across a wide range of infringement of fundamental rights. The basic health facilities are not available to the incarcerated people in this pandemic. However, access to health care is internationally recognized as a fundamental right for prisoners by the United Nations. The States must guarantee basic health facilities to the incarcerated people so it will reduce the rate of Covid -19 cases among the prisoners. Moreover, inequality, discrimination, pendency of litigation among the incarcerated people is one of another crucial reason for rising of Covid cases.


  • Enhance non- pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce transmission such as mask wearing, physical distancing, infected people should be tested and quarantine them for the safety of other incarcerated people.
  • There should be some strict polices to reduce jail and prison populations in order to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.
  • To counter the pandemic’s effects on worsening inequality and discrimination, governments should urgently take both immediate and longer-term steps to address the needs of those groups disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and use the crisis to tackle structural discrimination.
  • All the incarcerated people and the prison staff should be Covid-vaccinated so there will be less chances of spreading of coronavirus.
  • In order to address overcrowding issues in prisons, there are two possible ways either to reduce the population of the incarcerated people or to build new prisons.


The United States incarceration and Covid-19 rates are increasing rapidly, which needs to be addressed by proper implementation of SOPs, reducing overcrowding, restrain unlawful detention, alternative punishments for the less category of the offenders, strict laws and regulation for the proper implementation of the Covid-19 cases in incarceration and less category of the offender to be send for home confinement.

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