Grad student receives funding for research on COVID-19, incarceration

Erin McCauley, a doctoral candidate in the fields of sociology and policy analysis and management, recently received funding from the National Institute for Drug Abuse to support her research analyzing the effects of COVID-19 on jails. 

Her research, which focuses on the intergenerational consequences of parental incarceration on social inequality and racial disparities in health and education, is influenced by her background and interests in interdisciplinary health sciences and policy. 

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, McCauley knew COVID-19 would have a significant impact on correctional facilities.

“Prisons and jails are congregate living facilities. There is limited ability to social distance, and access to soaps and sanitizers is often inadequate,” McCauley said. “We know that COVID-19 has in fact hit the incarcerated population particularly hard. Efforts to reduce the risk haven’t been sufficient and reports from groups like the COVID Prison Project, the Marshall Project and the Vera Institute have made this clear. ”

McCauley serves as a research assistant for the COVID Prison Project, a group of interdisciplinary and public health scientists tracking the virus in American correctional facilities. She and the project’s lead investigators have a forthcoming publication examining COVID-19 in 53 correctional facilities pending in Health and Justice Journal.

Her research  – “How Has COVID-19 Affected the Size and Composition of Local Jails in the United States?” –  will result in a new database of county jail rosters to show how the pandemic has affected incarceration. Her work will be buoyed by the Institute’s funding award, which was distributed by the LifeSpan/Brown Criminal Justice Research Training Program (CJRT). That program, which she joined in 2019, prepares investigators for NIH-funded careers in the area of criminal justice and health research.

“I am interested in examining changes in the size and composition of jail incarceration through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the implications of these changes for inequality and our policy responses to COVID-19,” McCauley said. “I am also interested in using this newly developed database to explore a host of additional questions about incarceration and health at the jail level, as well as using this project to test the feasibility and scope of data which can be collected this way.”

McCauley looks forward to her research being a resource for the public.

“I am excited that this database can be a new resource to pursue a variety of questions related to jail incarceration. Creating an administrative database will provide more in-depth data to answer pressing questions with important implications for policy and population health,” she said. “Decarceration must be a priority in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and the results of this project can help us better understand the extent to which this is occurring in our county jails, where it is occurring, and how is it being accomplished.”

Amaris Janel Henderson is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.

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