Mass Incarceration, Race, and COVID-19, with Arvind Krishnamurthy

Episode Summary:

Arvind Krishnamurthy discusses the chapter he wrote on “COVID-19, Race, and Mass Incarceration” in The Pandemic Divide. He sets the scene at a prison in Marion County, Ohio that had a massive COVID outbreak, and it turns out that this is not uncommon. He explains that there was good reason from the beginning of the pandemic to understand that there was a high chance and high probability that individuals who were incarcerated, or residing in detention facilities, had an increased likelihood of contracting a highly infectious disease like COVID-19.

Arvind discusses how his research on criminal legal institutions has led him to think about the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic could exacerbate existing inequalities. He noted that many people who are incarcerated are unable to work from home or socially distance, which puts them at a higher risk for contracting the virus. Krishnamurthy also discussed how the pandemic has highlighted the ways in which space matters, as people who are unable to work from home or socially distance are at a disadvantage.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, scholars have been grappling with the ways in which the pandemic has affected different communities, particularly those who are already marginalized. Krishnamurthy discusses how he approached studying the ties among COVID-19, race, and mass incarceration, highlighting the work of the Marshall Project and other data resources in helping to understand the impact of the pandemic on incarcerated populations.

In the conversation, Krishnamurthy discusses his research on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on prisons and prisoners. He describes how he felt it was important to study this topic in order to understand the potential policy impacts, and to provide guidance to people moving forward.

Topics Discussed in this Episode:

  • COVID-19 and Its Impact on Racial and Spatial Inequality
  • The Impact of COVID-19 on the Carceral Facilities and the US Prison Population
  • The Importance of Voting in Local Elections

Resources Mentioned in this episode:

Episode transcript:

  • Full episode transcript can be found here


  • Voting matters
  • Advocate for those who aren’t given the voice to advocate for themselves
  • Don’t take anything for granted; be conscious of what’s affecting the world around you

ARVIND KRISHNAMURTHY is a PhD candidate in political science at Duke University studying the political behavior and race and ethnic politics subfields. He works with the Duke Center for Science and Justice and is a coauthor of Deadly Justice: A Statistical Portrait of the Death Penalty (2017). His research also appears in the Duke Journal of Constitutional Law and Public Policy and the Wake Forest Law Review.