Skip to main content

COVID-19 in Correctional and Detention Facilities – United States, February-April 2020

Our take —

This study reports 86% (32 of 37) of reporting jurisdictions report at least COVID-19 case among US correctional and detention facilities. There were 4,893 detected cases among incarcerated or detained people, and 2,778 cases among facility staff. This is an important case count, however only 69% of jurisdictions responded to the CDC request for data, and facilities did not use a universal testing strategy, therefore the numbers are likely an undercount. More granular data from facilities are needed to help understand the situation within these vulnerable populations.

Study design

Ecological; Other

Study population and setting

The study consisted of aggregate data of COVID-19 cases in correctional and detention facilities from 37 state and territorial health department jurisdictions (out of 54 jurisdictions requested) from April 22 to 28, 2020, and laboratory-confirmed cases identified and reported from January 21 to April 21, 2020.

Summary of Main Findings

Of the 37 jurisdictions reporting, COVID-19 cases were reported from 32 (86%) jurisdictions and 420 facilities within these jurisdictions. Of these, 221 (53%) reported COVID-19 cases only among staff members. There were 4,893 total cases among incarcerated or detained persons, 491 (10%) hospitalizations, and 88 (2%) deaths due to COVID-19. Of 2,788 staff member cases, 79 (3%) were hospitalized, and 15 (1%) died due to COVID-19.

Study Strengths

This study is the first report of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among correctional and detention facilities. The study reported the number of cases due to detained and incarcerated people, as well as the number due to staff members; this disaggregation is important to describe risks among two very different populations that are both present in these facilities.


The study only had data from 69% of the total 54 jurisdictions requested, therefore there may be selection bias and these results may not be generalizable across US facilities, and some jurisdictions only had state facility data, rather than local jails, federal, or private facilities. Also, most facilities do not provide universal testing to either incarcerated/detained people or to staff members, and therefore these numbers are likely undercounts. With aggregate numbers, none were disaggregated by state or region, or with any individual information, therefore it is unclear if these cases cluster in any particular area or among any particular population.

Value added

This is one of the first reports of the aggregate number of cases throughout the US in correctional and detention facilities.