COVID-19 Cases in State Prisons Grew by 12 Percent Every Week Last Month

August 5, 2020

A new analysis by The Council of State Governments Justice Center shows that states are continuing to battle the growing spread of COVID-19 in their correctional facilities, with the number of positive cases in prisons rising 12 percent each week over the last month.

While states with some of the largest prison populations—such as Texas, California, Florida, Georgia, and Ohio—are seeing cases increase, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Delaware appear to have the highest proportion of COVID-19 infections among people incarcerated in their state prisons.

The following graph shows how the total number of cases is growing in state prisons across the country, and the maps below offer state-by-state data on how the virus is taking shape in these facilities.

1. From July 6 to August 2, the number of total infections among people incarcerated in state prisons grew 12 percent each week.

2. Texas, Florida, and California have the highest number of COVID-19 cases among people in state prisons.

However, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Delaware have the highest proportion of infections among their state prison populations. The five states with the highest numbers of total incarcerated populations are also still struggling to contain the virus.

Total Incarcerated Population

(as of March 2020)*

Percentage of Incarcerated Population that Has Tested Positive for COVID-19 as of Aug. 2 Percentage of Corrections Staff that Has Tested Positive as of Aug. 2
Texas 140,124 11.9% (n=16,628) 8.3% (n=3,401)
California 118,466 7.0% (n=8,252) 3.1% (n=1,820)
Florida 91,828 9.2% (n=8,471) 7.4% (n=1,750)
Georgia 54,723 1.7% (n=940) 3.0% (n=504)
Ohio 48,765 9.3% (n=4,535) 7.3% (n=962)

* Incarcerated population figures were obtained from The Marshall Project at the onset of data collection efforts.

3. The number of cases among incarcerated people doesn’t always outnumber the cases among corrections staff.

In most states, more incarcerated people than corrections staff tested positive for COVID-19. For example, in Arkansas, 4,008 incarcerated people tested positive vs. 283 corrections staff; in Ohio 4,535 incarcerated people vs. 962 corrections staff; and in Michigan, 3,896 incarcerated people vs. 384 corrections staff.

However, in six states, there are more positive cases among corrections staff than people incarcerated in state prisons. For instance, in Alabama there are 303 cases among corrections staff vs. 207 among incarcerated people; in Nevada there are 76 cases among corrections staff vs. 19 among incarcerated people, in Nebraska there are 31 cases among corrections staff vs. 10 among incarcerated people, and in New York there are 1,311 cases among corrections staff vs. 605 among incarcerated people

Number of Incarcerated People Testing Positive for COVID-19 as Reported by State Prisons, As of Aug. 2, 2020

Number of Correctional Staff Testing Positive for COVID-19 as Reported by State Prisons, As of Aug. 2, 2020

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About the Authors


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Angela Gunter
Senior Research Associate, Research
Angela Gunter’s work primarily focuses on the data monitoring of justice reinvestment projects during Phase II policy implementation. She supports various ad hoc research efforts, including the 2014 Recidivism Reduction report, the Reentry and Employment pilot program, and the evaluation
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of the pretrial process for Bexar and Dallas counties Angela began her career in criminal justice in 2001 at the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council, where she worked on forecasting the impact of juvenile justice policy options for the Texas Legislature and creating monthly projections of bed capacity for juvenile offenders. Angie later joined the JFA Institute and conducted research on different aspects of the criminal justice system, including parole, probation, and juvenile justice in Texas, Kansas, and Puerto Rico. In 2008, Angie worked with the CSG Justice Center as a consultant on various projects, including mental health IT development for the State of Alaska. Prior to her career in criminal justice, Angie worked in the private sector as a business systems analyst where she oversaw the project lifecycle of custom-built software applications. She received her MPA from Indiana University and her BA from Rice University.
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