The US prison and jail population is the largest in the world at two million. With 4.2% of the world’s population, the US accounts for roughly 25% of the world’s prisoners. African Americans, at 13% of the general population, account for 34% of the prison population. Much like the effect COVID-19 has had Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) residents, prisons and jails have also constituted killing fields. Beyond this, prisons and jails serve as infectious disease multipliers, or as epidemiological pumps, spreading disease far beyond their walls. For example, prior to the beginning of last year’s school year prisons and jails accounted for 90 of the 100 worst COVID-19 cluster cites. Those incarcerated in jails and prisons have suffered a 5.5 times greater risk of a COVID-19 infection, experienced three times the death rate of those not incarcerated and so-called jail cycling has significantly accounted for COVID-19 infection rates in the general population, moreover in minority communities. The combination of high rates of arrest and incarceration have consequently become, as Dr. Reinhart recently stated, both the symptom and cause of poor public health, not a solution for it. (To appreciate further the extent to which mass incarceration affects prisoners’ health, in December 2016 I discussed the behavioral/mental health effects via wide-spread use of solitary confinement with Solitary Watch’s Jean Cansella.)
During this 40 minute discussion Eric Reinhart begins by discussing why and how he chose Cook County Jail for his research and describes how he conducted his study. In turn, he discusses and dismisses the possibility of reverse causality, details the magnitude of the jail cycling problem or the effect released inmates have on community or public health, discusses the use of decarceration in response to the pandemic and more generally as a solution for excessive punitivity/incarceration in context of carceral-community epidemiology.
Eric Reinhart is lead health and justice systems researcher at Data and Evidence for Justice Reform (DE JURE), the World Bank. He is a medical anthropologist, resident physician in
the Physician Scientist Training Program at Northwestern University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and an advanced candidate in adult psychoanalysis at the Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Jacobin, Boston Review, boundary 2, Journal of Legal Studies, Health Affairs, New England Journal of Medicine, British Medical Journal, The Lancet, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Reinhart's May Health Affairs blog post, "How Mass Incarceration Makes Us All Sick," is at: https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20210526.678786/full/.
Reinhart and Chen's May 2021 Proceedings from the National Academies (PNAS) article, "Carceral-Community Epidemiology, Structural Racism, and COVID-19 Disparities," is at: https://www.pnas.org/content/118/21/e2026577118.short.
Reinhart and Chen's June 2020 research article, "Incarceration and Its Disseminations: Covid-19 Pandemic Lessons From Chicago's Cook County Jail," is at: https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00652?utm_campaign=covid19fasttrack&utm_medium=press&utm_content=reinhart&utm_source=mediaadvisory.
Reinhart's March "Medicine for the People" Boston Review essay is at: http://bostonreview.net/science-nature/eric-reinhart-medicine-people.
Information on Paul Farmer's Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor is at: https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520243262/pathologies-of-power.