Using novel data from GIS-enabled smartphones, we document geographic variation in how connected California communities are to prisons, and show these connections have implications on the spread of infectious diseases. Using the well documented COVID-19 outbreak in San Quentin state prison in June 2020 as a source of potential community disease transmission, our data reveals that connected zip codes had 13% more new cases in July, and 26% higher in August, compared to unconnected zip codes. While prior research has primarily focused on the adverse health impact of prisons on incarcerated individuals, our work shows how these “closed institutions”, despite the lockdowns, can be more porous than many realize due to staff movement, highlighting the need for public health interventions to reduce unintended impact of such connections on the spread of other infectious disease beyond COVID-19.
Emily Owens is the Chair of the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society at the University of California, Irvine. She also holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Economics. Professor Owens studies a wide range of topics in the economics of crime, including policing, sentencing, and the impact of local public policies on criminal behavior. Her research examines how government policies affect the prevalence of criminal activity as well as how agents within the criminal justice system, particularly police, prosecutors, and judges, respond to policy changes. Professor Owens is engaged in ongoing research projects on police training, alcohol regulation, immigration policy, and local economic development programs. Professor Owens received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Maryland-College Park