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Carceral Amplification of COVID-19: Impacts for Community, Corrections Officer, and Incarcerated Population Risks.

Abstract

COVID-19 is challenging many societal institutions, including our criminal justice systems. Some have proposed or enacted (e.g., the State of New Jersey) reductions in the jail and/or prison populations. We present a mathematical model to explore the epidemiologic impact of such interventions in jails and contrast them with the consequences of maintaining unaltered practices. We consider infection risk and likely in-custody deaths, and estimate how within-jail dynamics lead to spill-over risks, not only affecting incarcerated people but increasing exposure, infection, and death rates for both corrections officers and the broader community beyond the justice system. We show that, given a typical jail-community dynamic, operating in a business-as-usual way results in substantial, rapid, and ongoing loss of life. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that large-scale reductions in arrest and speeding of releases are likely to save the lives of incarcerated people, jail staff, and the wider community.

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