Jun 5, 2020 - Health

Jailing practices contribute to coronavirus spread

A demonstrator waits in her car with a poster that says "COVID + Prison = Death"
Photo: Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Illinois zip codes with higher rates of arrests and inmates who have been released from jail also had higher coronavirus case rates, according to a new study published in Health Affairs.

Why it matters: Although many communities have sped up the release of low-risk offenders as a coronavirus mitigation tactic, that doesn't cover arrest or pre-trial detention practices.

The big picture: We don't yet know how easily the coronavirus will spread through the massive crowds of people protesting racism and police brutality. But we do know that it has spread very easily so far through prisons — and that more than ten thousand of these protesters have been arrested, per AP.

By the numbers: Jail cycling has accounted for 55% of the varying rates of coronavirus infection across Chicago zip codes and for 37% of the variance across Illinois, the study found.

  • Cycling through Cook County Jail was associated with 15.7% of all documented coronavirus cases in the state as of April 19.
  • "Jail cycling far exceeds race, poverty, public transit utilization, and population density as a predictor of variance," the authors write.

The bottom line: "It is possible that, as arrested individuals are exposed to high-risk spaces for infection in jails and then later released to their communities, the criminal justice system is turning them into potential disease vectors for their families, neighbors, and, ultimately, the general public," the authors add.

Go deeper: Coronavirus behind bars

Go deeper