The rate of COVID-19 in U.S. prisons is nearly six times higher than in the general population. And the COVID death rate among prisoners is likely tripled, researchers report.
“While these numbers are striking, we actually think the disparities within prisons is much greater,” said study lead author Brendan Saloner, associate professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“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,” Saloner added in a Hopkins news release.
The researchers analyzed coronavirus cases and deaths from March 31 to June 6. The rate of COVID-19 among prisoners was 3,251 per 100,000, compared to 587 cases per 100,000 in the general population. That’s 5.5 times higher, they said.
The COVID death rate was 39 deaths per 100,000 prisoners, compared with 29 per 100,000 in the general population. After adjusting for age and sex differences, the death rate would be three times higher among prisoners than in the nonprison population, according to the researchers.
Prisoners are especially vulnerable to the spread of a highly infectious disease like COVID-19 because of close confinement and limited access to personal protective equipment. High rates of preexisting respiratory and heart conditions also raise their susceptibility, according to the researchers.
“Prisoners have a right to adequate protection of their health while incarcerated,” Saloner said. “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.”
During the study period, coronavirus cases in prisons increased by about 8% a day, compared to roughly 3% in the general population, the study revealed.
The researchers tallied more than 42,100 cases and 510 deaths among nearly 1.3 million U.S. prison residents. In the general population, there were 1.9 million infections and about 95,600 deaths in the general population.
The findings were published online July 8 as a research letter in Journal of the American Medical Association.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.