Spanish Influenza (1918) in U.S. Prisons

ElyaDatabase ID Number: M097

Creator: Christina Krewson ’21 Health, Behavior & Society and Environmental Studies

The spread of COVID-19 among incarcerated populations has been shocking and horrifying: prisons have been labeled as “coronavirus hotbeds” since spring of 2020, but despite more stringent protocols, COVID-19 rates are still high in prisons. This map demonstrates the high rates of COVID-19 in state prisons across the United States. As of mid November, the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 prison inmates ranged from 5 in New Hampshire to 6,378 in South Dakota. The majority of states have rates of between 1,000 and 2,000 among their incarcerated populations. The high case rates for inmates in South Dakota parallel the state’s record-breaking case rates for the general population (one in 71 people in the state are actively infected with COVID-19). The same database (compiled by The Marshall Project) reveals that the 5 states with the most deaths among inmates from COVID-19 are Florida, Texas, Ohio, California, and Georgia. These 5 states have all struggled to control COVID-19. Just like the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Spanish Influenza pandemic swept through prison populations in the United States. This map locates state prisons that experienced outbreaks of Spanish Influenza between 1918 and 1920. The color-coded states show the excess deaths from influenza for the general state population, while the points are large prisons whose Spanish Influenza outbreaks were recorded in newspapers, annual reports from state Departments of Correction, and other media. Many states do not have easily accessible excess death records, as most vital statistics were gathered at the municipal level. This map fails to show the extent of Spanish Influenza outbreaks among prison populations. For example, the Ohio State Institutional Journal noted outbreaks in 17 out of 20 state prisons, but for some states, no information could be found about the pandemic in their prisons. Among the points of the map, Portsmouth Naval Prison and Charlestown State Prison stand out as making headlines across the country with their outbreaks. And San Quentin has been upheld as an example of what not to do during the current COVID-19 crisis.

Cite This Work :

Christina Krewson, “Spanish Influenza (1918) in U.S. Prisons.” Scale: 1:70,000. In Elya J. Zhang, ed., Mapping History Series. <> (accessed May 27, 2022).

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