About PrisonPandemic


Keramet Reiter

Criminology, Law and Society Department

Associate Professor

Naomi Sugie

Criminology, Law and Society Department

Associate Professor

Kristin Turney

Sociology Department


Joanne DeCaro

Criminology, Law and Society Department

Doctoral Student

Gabe Rosales

Criminology, Law and Society Department

Doctoral Student


Thank you to the many people, organizations, and funders that have contributed to PrisonPandemic: Elena Mo, Amrita Jain, Sara Brown and her team of UCI nursing students, UCI hotline volunteers and student volunteers, UCI Schools of Social Ecology and Social Sciences, and VNON.  PrisonPandemic received support from the National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health, through Grant UL1 TR0001414. Data for COVID cases, infection rates, deaths, and facilities come from the UCLA Law Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project.


What is PrisonPandemic?

We are creating a digital archive to preserve the stories of people who are incarcerated in California prisons, their family members and loved ones, and the employees who work in these facilities. This living archive will track people’s stories across time (with retrospective accounts from the start of the pandemic and moving forward) and place (across all 35 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation facilities). We are collecting stories in three ways. First, individuals can call our hotline to tell their stories (949-824-6600, staffed Monday through Friday from 5pm to 9pm PST. Hotline accepts collect calls from California prisons). Second, individuals can mail letters, artwork, and other contributions to us at: PrisonPandemic, PO Box 4430, Sunland, CA 91041. Third, individuals can submit a story via the submission section of the PrisonPandemic homepage.

Who started this project and why?

We are a group of faculty and students at the University of California, Irvine, who study the experiences and effects of incarceration in the United States, and especially, the unequal impacts of the harms of incarceration. As we read the news about COVID-19 ravaging our prisons over the last year, we have been concerned about the dangerous effects of the virus on people living and working in prisons (and on their loved ones). And we have noted that there are currently no systematic accounts of how prisoners, their loved ones, and the staff and officers who work in prisons are experiencing this public health crisis. In fact, widespread lockdowns and outside visitor prohibitions have cut off prisoners from most outside contact. We started this project to address these concerns.

What are the goals of the project?

We have two goals. First, we hope to bear witness to what people are experiencing inside our prisons during the pandemic. We want to give them an opportunity to describe their experiences and for them to know that people are listening to and sharing those descriptions. Second, we want to bring greater transparency to the crisis through the creation of our digital archive. The archive will serve as a resource for understanding the pandemic’s unequal toll. By providing individuals in prison an opportunity to share their stories, this project will raise awareness to the vulnerabilities experienced by this population.

Why do some prisons have stories but others do not?

We are continuing to add stories to the site.  After a person calls our hotline or sends a letter to us, we edit the contribution to remove identifying information and we segment longer stories into shorter moments.  We have received hundreds of contributions so far, and we will continue to add those, as well as new ones, as we work to ensure that they are anonymous and redacted.

How are stories edited into shorter segments and tagged by topic?

Our team edits longer contributions into shorter segments, based on topics, in order to provide visitors easy access to a variety of stories. For each segment, we assign at least one of the following five topics depending on the segment’s main focus: prison conditions, family, infection, stress, and programs. We also identify stories that we believe are particularly compelling as “featured” stories that are typically listed on the site first.  Shorter segments also have links to full versions of the contributions.

Why are the numbers reported on this site different from those on CDCR’s tracker?

We update numbers pertaining to COVID cases, infection rates, deaths, and facilities on a weekly basis. Population numbers for each facility are based on February 2020 data. These data all come from the UCLA Law Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project.