When it comes to contracting COVID-19, U.S. prisons, jails and detention centers are among the most dangerous places to be. Incarcerated individuals are infected with COVID-19 at a rate five times higher than the average.
The COVID-19 pandemic started more than three years ago, and cases are spiking across the country again this fall. Prison Journalism Project was founded shortly after the pandemic began, in April 2020, and began tracking the devastation of COVID-19 inside U.S. prisons.
Dozens of PJP writers have documented the sickness, death and lockdowns connected to the virus. Here, we curate a list of stories that remind us how COVID-19 has affected and continues to affect life inside.
“COVID-19 in Solitary” by Cedrick “CJ” Johnson: “The guards continue to test positive for COVID-19 and we are the only ones being punished.”
“During COVID, Solitary Intensified Mental Health Problems in Prisons” by Brandon T. Genest: “The number of incarcerated people placed in solitary confinement saw a nearly 500% increase during the peak of the pandemic. …This increase raises concerns among prisoners and prisoner rights advocates of a new mental health crisis.”
“Precaution or Punishment?” by Sheldon P. Johnson: “How many times am I expected to contract COVID and survive?”
“It’s Still a COVID-19 Emergency in Here” by Steve Brooks: “While the outside world was returning to normal, San Quentin was under quarantine for much of 2022.”
“Quarantined in Solitary is Still Solitary” by Christopher Blackwell: “But once we were locked behind that thick steel door, we were in solitary, and we were treated as such.”
“COVID-19 Isolation at a Virginia Women’s Prison” by Chanell Burnette: “We were supposed to spend 10 days in isolation, or red zone, but we were held there longer than that — longer than our sickness lasted.”
“One Ohio Prison’s Policies During the Omicron Surge” by Ennis Patterson: “Just like with previous spikes in cases, it once again felt as if the state had no meaningful plans to slow the spread inside the prison.”
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.