To read this content please select one of the options below:

Incarcerated individuals’ experiences of COVID-19 in the United States

Carrie Pettus-Davis (College of Social Work, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA)
Stephanie C. Kennedy (Institute for Justice Research and Development, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA)
Christopher A. Veeh (School of Social Work, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 24 March 2021

Issue publication date: 18 October 2021




This study aims to examine steps taken by correctional staff to prevent COVID-19 from spreading through correctional facilities and explores strategies used by incarcerated individuals to reduce their own risk of contracting COVID-19 during confinement.


Data were drawn from interviews with 327 individuals incarcerated after March 16, 2020, in Midwest1, Midwest2 and Southeast state using a questionnaire developed for this purpose. All study participants were actively involved in a randomized controlled trial of a behavioral health reentry intervention and the human subjects board approved the supplement of this study on COVID-19; interviews were conducted from April 15 to November 19, 2020.


Overall, 9.89% of participants contracted COVID-19. Most (68.50%) individuals learned about COVID-19 from television compared to official correctional facility announcements (32.42%). Participants wore face masks (85.02%), washed hands (84.40%) and practiced physical distancing when possible (66.36%). Participants reported that facilities suspended visitation (89.60%) and volunteers (82.57%), provided face masks (83.18%), sanitized (68.20%), conducted temperature checks (55.35%) and released individuals early (7.34%).

Social implications

Longitudinal observational study on the implementation and effectiveness of public health guidelines in prisons and jails may identify best practices for containing the infectious disease. Maximizing transparent communications, as well as COVID-19 prevention and mitigation efforts, are critical to achieving universal best practices for virus containment and amplifying public health.


Data presented indicate the early adoption of many Centers for Disease Control guidelines by individuals and correctional facilities, although broad variation existed. Data support the identification of containment strategies for feasible implementation in a range of correctional spaces.



The authors wish to thank the individual who participated in the study. The current study was supported by a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.


Pettus-Davis, C., Kennedy, S.C. and Veeh, C.A. (2021), "Incarcerated individuals’ experiences of COVID-19 in the United States", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 335-350.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles