Overcrowding can increase the risk of disease transmission, such as that of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), within United States prisons. The number of COVID-19 cases among prisoners is higher than that among the general public, and this disparity is further increased for prisoners of color. This report uses the example case of the COVID-19 pandemic to observe prison conditions and preventive efforts, address racial disparities for people of color, and guide structural improvements for sustaining inmate health during a pandemic in four select states: California, New York, Illinois, and Florida. To curb the further spread of COVID-19 among prisoners and their communities, safe public health practices must be implemented including providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing of staff and inmates, disseminating culturally and language appropriate information regarding the pandemic and preventive precautions, introducing social distancing measures, and ensuring adequate resources to safely reintegrate released prisoners into their communities.
Keywords: COVID-19; disease transmission; health disparities; incarceration; public health; racial disparities.