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Red bars cover a small window opening in a stone wall
Photo by Michael Jasmund on Unsplash

When it comes to contracting COVID-19, U.S. prisons, jails and detention centers are among the most dangerous places to be. Incarcerated individuals are infected with COVID-19 at a rate five times higher than the average.

The COVID-19 pandemic started more than three years ago, and cases are spiking across the country again this fall. Global Forum Online was founded shortly after the pandemic began, in April 2020, and began tracking the devastation of COVID-19 inside U.S. prisons.

Dozens of PJP writers have documented the sickness, death and lockdowns connected to the virus. Here, we curate a list of stories that remind us how COVID-19 has affected and continues to affect life inside.


Red bars cover a small window opening in a stone wall

COVID-19 in Solitary by Cedrick “CJ” Johnson: “The guards continue to test positive for COVID-19 and we are the only ones being punished.” 

Sunlight from openings in a brick wall are cast inside a dark room.

During COVID, Solitary Intensified Mental Health Problems in Prisonsby Brandon T. Genest: “The number of incarcerated people placed in solitary confinement saw a nearly 500% increase during the peak of the pandemic. …This increase raises concerns among prisoners and prisoner rights advocates of a new mental health crisis.” 

Profile of a man wearing a mask for COVID protection in prison

Precaution or Punishment? by Sheldon P. Johnson: “How many times am I expected to contract COVID and survive?”

Entrance gate to San Quentin State Prison in California

It’s Still a COVID-19 Emergency in Here by Steve Brooks: “While the outside world was returning to normal, San Quentin was under quarantine for much of 2022.”

Silhouette of a man standing alone against an window

Quarantined in Solitary is Still Solitary by Christopher Blackwell: “But once we were locked behind that thick steel door, we were in solitary, and we were treated as such.”

Closeup of protective face mask laying on a window sill, implying COVID isolation.

COVID-19 Isolation at a Virginia Women’s Prisonby Chanell Burnette: “We were supposed to spend 10 days in isolation, or red zone, but we were held there longer than that — longer than our sickness lasted.”

Magnified drawing of the illustration of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus with spike proteins.

One Ohio Prison’s Policies During the Omicron Surgeby Ennis Patterson: “Just like with previous spikes in cases, it once again felt as if the state had no meaningful plans to slow the spread inside the prison.”


Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Elena Townsend-Lerdo is a volunteer editor at Global Forum Online and a student in California. She has been writing about prison journalism since 2017.

India Claudy is a volunteer editor at Global Forum Online and a student in California. She is passionate about inclusive, accessible journalism.