Covid-19’s impact on the incarcerated population is a pressing humanitarian issue. Inmates are disproportionately more likely to be afflicted by the disease, and large percentages of inmates have tested positive. In response, advocates have encouraged people to reach out to elected officials and call for the release of non-violent and/or at-risk offenders. Whether this call to action can succeed broadly remains an open question. This project uses a randomized survey experiment to answer two questions: First, can the mass public be moved to empathize with those behind bars to advocate for release? Second, is attention to the health conditions in the context of Covid-19 jails and prison changing attitudes toward incarceration and punishment in the United States? These questions are pressing since we know relatively little about how punitive attitudes might change in response to health crises in prisons, and public opinion is an important driver of carceral state expansion.
Assistant Professor, Government, College of William and Mary
Assistant Professor, Michigan State University