COVID-19 Behind Bars: JAMA Publishes UCLA Law Research

October 8, 2021
UCLA Law Professor Sharon Dolovich
UCLA Law Professor Sharon Dolovich heads the COVID Behind Bars Data Project.

UCLA School of Law Professor Sharon Dolovich co-wrote an article on rates of COVID-19 infection and death in U.S. prisons that has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the country’s leading medical journal.

The research letter, “COVID-19 Incidence and Mortality in Federal and State Prisons Compared With the US Population, April 5, 2020, to April 3, 2021,” was published on the JAMA website on Oct. 6. It delivers an accounting of “COVID-19 cases and deaths among prisoners in all 50 state prison systems and the Federal Bureau of Prisons” over the course of a year. UCLA Law’s COVID Behind Bars Data Project, which Dolovich founded and directs, collected the information from sources including corrections departments’ websites, the Marshall Project, and the Associated Press.

Dolovich wrote the piece with Neal Marquez, Julie A. Ward, Kalind Parish, and Brendan Saloner. They found that nearly 400,000 COVID-19 cases and 2,555 deaths were reported in U.S. prisons.

“COVID-19 incidence and standardized mortality rates remained consistently higher among the prison population than the overall US population in the first year of the pandemic,” they write. “While COVID-19 incidence and mortality rates peaked in late 2020 and early 2021 and have since declined, the cumulative toll of COVID-19 has been several times greater among the prison population than the overall US population.”

This is the third major publication for Dolovich and her project. In July 2020, JAMA published a piece by Dolovich and her co-authors titled “COVID-19 Cases and Deaths in Federal and State Prisons.” In April 2021, she co-wrote the article “Willingness to Receive COVID-19 Vaccination among Incarcerated or Detained Persons in Correctional and Detention Facilities — Four States, September–December 2020” in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), one of the nation’s oldest and most esteemed epidemiology publications.

Dolovich is the faculty director of the UCLA Prison Law and Policy Program and an authority on criminal law, the law and policy of prisons and punishment, and other post-conviction issues.

She founded the COVID Behind Bars Data Project at the start of the pandemic in early 2020 and assembled a team of hundreds, including many student and alumni volunteers, to compile and analyze information. Under her leadership with deputy director Aaron Littman, one of UCLA Law’s Binder Clinical Teaching Fellows, the project’s work and reports have regularly appeared in media stories about the pandemic and prisons. Project members have also played substantial roles in advocating for government policy responses in various places around the country.

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