COVID-19 & Incarceration

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, places of incarceration and detention around the world have become reservoirs for virus transmission – filled with individuals with increased prevalence of preexisting conditions, in often overcrowded, poorly ventilated, and unsanitary facilities, with inadequate access to health-care. This pandemic has highlighted the significant social costs of incarceration, the brutality imprisonment inflicts on the incarcerated and their communities, as well as the inequity and racism that shapes both the carceral state and health outcomes.  

Historical Origins & Potential Remedies – Spring 2021 Webinar Series

In an effort to reframe the conversation around the broader public health threats imposed by current carceral practices, The Harvard Global Health Institute partnered with Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics to host a series of events to focus on examining the disastrous consequences of COVID-19 on incarcerated populations as one of the many repercussions of current carceral practices for individual and community health. The events took place in the 2021 Spring semester and feature discussions with experts and advocates from across criminal justice, public health, medicine, social work, and law.  

Webinar 1: COVID-19 Crisis in Prisons, Jails, and Detention Centers: Historical Perspective and Global Context

COVID-19 Crisis in Prisons, Jails, and Detention Centers: Historical Perspective and Global Context was the first event in a new series hosted by the Harvard Global Health Institute in partnership with Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. This webinar brought together a diverse set of panelists to address the current state of the COVID-19 virus in places of detention and incarceration around the world, and discuss how historical contexts for present-day carceral conditions, like overcrowding, and current practices, such as solitary confinement, have enabled the virus to spread. By critically examining the history of global carceral systems, we aim to highlight how deliberate design has exacerbated harm to this population, reinforcing inequality and discrimination, and thwarting efforts to respond to the virus.


Webinar 2: Decarceration as a Public Health Strategy: Stopping the Spread of COVID-19

The second event in our series considers prison depopulation or decarceration in response to the threat of COVID-19 in places of incarceration. In response to the growing number of COVID-19 outbreaks in these facilities, public health experts, civil rights attorneys, and advocacy groups have made urgent appeals for decarceration. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, prison decongestion measures have been adopted in over 100 countries world wide. However, decarceration and prison depopulation isn’t straightforward. It raises a host of questions and challenges around issues such as recidivism, racial equity, and support systems for those reentering society.

To examine these issues, this webinar brought together a diverse panel of researchers, practitioners, and activists to discuss the role of decarceration as a part of the public health response to COVID-19 and examine current decarceration efforts around the world.