COVID-19 is hitting prisons hard across the US

An inmate looks out a prison window.
AP Photo/Marijan Murat

Prisons have become a hotspot for COVID-19 cases because they are overcrowded and built with poor ventilation systems and small cells, where it is difficult for prisoners and staff to maintain the necessary physical distance to try to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

After U.S. states such as Ohio, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Michigan began to conduct aggressive testing in their prison systems, the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in various prisons became more evident.

To reduce the risks associated with the coronavirus in prisons, legislators in different states are considering ways to implement protective measures, such as limiting visitations from outside visitors. Other strategies to slow the spread of the virus include releasing prisoners who have a higher risk of developing COVID-19 complications because of their underlying health conditions and prisoners with nonviolent offenses, such as theft or embezzlement.

Staff members working in prisons, such as correctional officers, chaplains, wardens, and cooks, are also at risk of contracting COVID-19. And, unlike prisoners, staff are also at risk of spreading the coronavirus outside prisons, in the communities in which they live.

Since March, the Marshall Project has been collecting data that documents how many people are becoming sick and dying from COVID-19 in U.S. prisons, and how the disease has spread throughout the country.

Each represents 10 new cases

As of May 20, 2020, at least 29,251 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in U.S. prisons.

There have been at least 7,435 reported cases among staff.

As inmate and prison staff deaths rise, organizers, lawyers, and legislators are seeking to create smaller pods of inmates and separate each group of inmates to prevent more cases.

Each represents 1 new death

As of May 20, there have been at least 415 deaths among prisoners.

There have been at least 33 deaths from coronavirus reported among prison staff.

Because of large differences in the number of people tested for the coronavirus in each state prison system, the total cases reported vary widely throughout the U.S. Using the tool below, you can view data for any state prison system and compare it to the total reported cases in their state.