Prisons contribute to COVID racial disparities | NC Health News

Inequity in sentencing and building more prisons in mostly Black communities add up to increased COVID-19 among people of color, including prison workers, inside and outside of NC prisons.

One in five people who have been in North Carolina’s prisons since March have tested positive for COVID-19, matching the national average for prison infections. One in four prison staff members have tested positive, according to data from the N.C. Department of Public Safety, which oversees state prisons.

That’s compared with one out of 13 people testing positive for the virus statewide.

Because inmates and prison staff are much more likely to be Black than North Carolina’s population as a whole, the outbreaks happening behind prison walls are disproportionately harming Black people and Black communities in North Carolina.

What’s happening in North Carolina follows the national trend, according to Aaron Littman, deputy director of the COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project at UCLA School of Law.

“The incidence of this disease has been heavier on communities of color, and our practice of racially discriminatory mass incarceration worsens that,” Littman said.

The factors that cause greater infection rates among Black communities create a cyclical process for infection, and prisons act as both incubator and distribution center for the disease, according to multiple experts in the law, public health and sociology.

John Eason, founder and director of UW Justice Lab and sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studies where prisons are built and who works at prisons. He was among the first to show a correlation between where prisons are located and the rapid spread of COVID-19, a conclusion that has since been supported by work from other researchers.

More often than not, communities around prisons are mostly Black, Eason said, and those communities were among the first to get COVID-19. Essential workers, like correctional officers, have to go to work in person.

Though census data shows that roughly 22 percent of people in North Carolina are Black, just over half of people in prison and half of correctional officers are Black.

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