ISCI is a cross-disciplinary research centre working to further our understanding of state crime: organisational deviance violating human rights

Do Prisoners’ Lives Matter? Examining the Intersection of Punitive Policies, Racial Disparities and COVID-19 as State Organized Race Crime


State Crime Journal Special Issue on the COVID-19 Pandemic and State Crime

Vol. 10, No. 1 (2021) open access

Elizabeth A. Bradshaw (Central Michigan University, USA)

The United States is an outlier when it comes to the spread of COVID-19 internationally, with the country topping the charts for the total number of positive cases and deaths. Similarly, the country also leads the world in the number of people incarcerated in prisons, jails and detention facilities. The intersecting crises of COVID-19 and mass incarceration have culminated into an epidemic of racialized disparities that have disproportionately impacted Black and elderly prisoners. As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges, correctional facilities face particular challenges in controlling the spread of highly infectious pathogens like COVID-19 such as “crowded dormitories, shared lavatories, limited medical and isolation resources, daily entry and exit of staff members and visitors, continual introduction of newly incarcerated or detained persons, and transport of incarcerated or detained persons in multi-person vehicles for court-related, medical, or security reasons” (Wallace et al. 2020: 587). Overcrowded conditions of confinement that are commonplace across U.S. prisons and jails make it impossible to abide by the social distancing guidelines of six feet prescribed by the CDC. Comparing them to nursing homes or cruise ships, which saw early rampant infections due to close quartering, the president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners perceptively noted “[o]ur jails are petri dishes”…(read more)