Across America, incarcerated people are being hit hard by COVID-19. The infection rate in Washington, D.C., jails is 14 times higher than the general population of the city. In one Michigan correctional facility, more than 600 incarcerated people have tested positive — almost 50% of the prison’s total population. In Arkansas, about 40% of the state’s COVID-19 diagnoses are located in a maximum-security prison. In Ohio, about 20% of the state’s COVID-19 diagnoses can be traced to one prison. Correctional staff are not immune. In Cook County, Ill., nearly 200 correctional officers have tested positive.
Lawmakers are facing pressure from criminal justice and civil rights organizations to provide better health care for incarcerated people and even release non-violent offenders, the elderly, and people in pre-trial detention. Nationwide, roughly 500,000 people are sitting in jails without being convicted of a crime. Most of them simply cannot make bail after an arrest.
On May 15, the Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative at Brookings hosted a webinar to discuss this endemic within the pandemic. An expert panel provided a broad overview of the scope of the impact of COVID-19 on prisons, offer firsthand accounts of how disease outbreaks affect incarcerated people, and propose policy solutions for keeping incarcerated people, correctional staff, and their families safe and healthy during this time.