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June 10, 2020

Two notable recent studies detailing connections between incarceration and community spread of COVID-19

One important theme of much COVID-era advocacy for decarceration efforts (early examples here and here and here) was that reducing the density of jails and prisons, and thereby slowing the spread of coronavirus, is critical not just for the well-being of incarcerated persons, staff and their families, but also for the communities and the general public around prison facilities.  In recent days, I have seen these two interesting new studies that explore various connections between incarceration and local community spread of this harmful virus:

Incarceration And Its Disseminations: COVID-19 Pandemic Lessons From Chicago’s Cook County Jail by Eric Reinhart and Daniel Chen:

Abstract: "Jails and prisons are major sites of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection.  Many jurisdictions in the United States have therefore accelerated release of low-risk offenders.  Early release, however, does not address how arrest and pre-trial detention practices may be contributing to disease spread.  Using data from Cook County Jail, in Chicago, Illinois, one of the largest known nodes of SARS-CoV-2 spread, we analyze the relationship between jailing practices and community infections at the zip-code level.  We find that jail cycling is a significant predictor of SARS-CoV-2 infection, accounting for 55 percent of the variance in case rates across zip codes in Chicago and 37 percent in Illinois. By comparison, jail cycling far exceeds race, poverty, public transit utilization, and population density as a predictor of variance.  The data suggest that cycling through Cook County Jail alone is associated with 15.7 percent of all documented novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in Illinois and 15.9 percent in Chicago as of April 19, 2020.  Our findings support arguments for reduced reliance on incarceration and for related justice reforms both as emergency measures during the present pandemic and as sustained structural changes vital for future pandemic preparedness and public health."

Incarceration Weakens a Community’s Immune System: Mass Incarceration and COVID-19 Cases in Milwaukee Preliminary Results by Gipsy Escobar and Sema Taheri

"Following on the findings from previous research, we hypothesize that communities with higher levels of incarceration are more vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 due to the impacts of mass incarceration on collective efficacy and concentrated disadvantage.  We look at the effect of the number of people sentenced to incarceration in 2015 on the concentration of COVID-19 cases between March 15 and May 11, 2020 at the census tract in Milwaukee county....

"In the context of ecological criminology, we explored the effect of incarceration rates on the number of COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee County neighborhoods and found preliminary support for our hypothesis.  The number of incarcerations is a strong predictor of the number of COVID-19 cases above and beyond the effect of other predictors in the model, including poverty, unemployment, and population not in the labor force.  Indeed, incarceration is an aggravating factor in poor health outcomes for disadvantaged communities."

June 10, 2020 at 10:09 AM | Permalink

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