Prisons have been largely undiscussed hotspots of SARS-CoV-2 infection and death. Incarcerated people are 550% more likely to contract COVID-19 and 300% more likely to die from it than non-incarcerated people, according to an article by Brendan Saloner, Kalind Parish, Julie A. Ward, Grace DiLaura, and Sharon Dolovich published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July 2020. And yet, the public discourse regarding the pandemic’s spread has largely excluded discussions of carceral environments, and the voices of incarcerated and previously incarcerated people themselves are overwhelmingly absent. There’s plenty of publicly available data on the topic of COVID-19 in prisons, but how often have you heard illness experiences described by incarcerated people? How often have you read about COVID-19 in prisons without reading about the criminal charges that are supposed to somehow justify exposure to illness? That’s why Megan Swartzfager, an MA Student in the ECL concentration in Literature, Medicine, and Culture, decided to put together an ArcGIS Story Map to integrate publicly available data about COVID-19 in prisons with personal accounts from people on the inside.
The project, which she submitted as a final project for Dr. Jane Thrailkill’s ENGL610 course in the fall of 2020 and will be presenting at the Health Humanities Consortium International Conference this March, was recently featured by Synapsis: A Health Humanities Journal and on the CHCI Health and Medical Humanities Network listserv. It features new stories, first-person accounts, and analysis of prison responses to the pandemic.
Motivated to inspire people to act, Megan includes resources that anyone can use to support incarcerated people. She plans to keep updating the document, including ways to act, throughout the pandemic, so check back often. Her most recent update added to the map articles from Synapsis’s recent special issue regarding COVID-19 and criminal justice.