Incarceration and Its Disseminations: COVID-19 Pandemic Lessons From Chicago’s Cook County Jail

ABSTRACT: Jails and prisons are major sites of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection. Many jurisdictions in the United States have therefore accelerated release of low-risk offenders. Early release, however, does notaddress how arrest and pre-trial detention practices may be contributingto disease spread. Using data from Cook County Jail, in Chicago, Illinois,one of the largest known nodes of SARS-CoV-2 spread, we analyze the relationship between jailing practices and community infections at thezip-code level. We find that jail cycling is a significant predictor of SARS-CoV-2 infection, accounting for 55 percent of the variance in case ratesacross zip codes in Chicago and 37 percent in Illinois. By comparison, jailcycling far exceeds race, poverty, public transit utilization, and population density as a predictor of variance. The data suggest that cycling through Cook County Jail alone is associated with 15.7 percent of all documented novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in Illinois and15.9 percent in Chicago as of April 19, 2020. Our findings support arguments for reduced reliance on incarceration and for related justicereforms both as emergency measures during the present pandemic and assustained structural changes vital for future pandemic preparedness and public health.

[Editor’s Note: This Fast Track Ahead Of Print article is the accepted version of the peer-reviewed manuscript.

The final edited version will appear in an upcoming issue of Health Affairs.]

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