COVID Diagnosed the System

abstract illustration representing mass incarceration

Around the globe, people held in detention sites were at elevated risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. Nowhere was this risk greater than in the U.S., home to 25% of the world’s total population of incarcerated people. The U.S. prison system is shocking not only in its scale, but also in how it has been specifically deployed against racial and ethnic minorities, with young Black men as primary targets. Large-scale COVID outbreaks across the American detention system (including jails, youth detention centers, immigration detention, local jails, state prisons and Federal prisons) became recurrent headline news throughout the height of the pandemic. 

This research program has two primary goals. First, it documents what happened behind bars during the pandemic, with emphasis on Massachusetts, and includes the impacts of solitary confinement during and beyond the pandemic. Second, it asks whether the pandemic has made any lasting impacts on policy and activist debates about the future of the American carceral system.  Beginning 2020, the project produced blog essays, research papers and a book, due out in 2025.

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