A rapid review of early guidance to prevent and control COVID-19 in custodial settings

Lindsay A. Pearce*, Alaina Vaisey, Claire Keen, Lucas Calais-Ferreira, James A. Foulds, Jesse T. Young, Louise Southalan, Rohan Borschmann, Ruth Gray, Sunita Stürup-Toft, Stuart A. Kinner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: With over 11 million people incarcerated globally, prevention and control of COVID-19 in custodial settings is a critical component of the public health response. Given the risk of rapid transmission in these settings, it is important to know what guidance existed for responding to COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic. We sought to identify, collate, and summarise guidance for the prevention and control of COVID-19 in custodial settings in the first six months of 2020. We conducted a systematic search of peer-reviewed and grey literature, and manually searched relevant websites to identify publications up to 30 June 2020 outlining recommendations to prevent and/or control COVID-19 in custodial settings. We inductively developed a coding framework and assessed recommendations using conventional content analysis. 

Results: We identified 201 eligible publications containing 374 unique recommendations across 19 domains including: preparedness; physical environments; case identification, screening, and management; communication; external access and visitation; psychological and emotional support; recreation, legal, and health service adaptation; decarceration; release and community reintegration; workforce logistics; surveillance and information sharing; independent monitoring; compensatory measures; lifting control measures; evaluation; and key populations/settings. We identified few conflicting recommendations. 

Conclusions: The breadth of recommendations identified in this review reflects the complexity of COVID-19 response in custodial settings. Despite the availability of comprehensive guidance early in the pandemic, important gaps remain in the implementation of recommended prevention and control measures globally, and in the availability of evidence assessing their effectiveness on reducing COVID-19 disease, impact on people in custody and staff, and implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number27
JournalHealth and Justice
Issue number1
Early online date15 Oct 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This work was co-funded by the Centre for Health Equity and the Justice Health Unit, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne. The Justice Health Unit led design, data collection and analysis, and preparation of the manuscript.

Open Access: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
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Publisher Copyright: © 2021, The Author(s).

Citation: Pearce, L.A., Vaisey, A., Keen, C. et al. A rapid review of early guidance to prevent and control COVID-19 in custodial settings. Health Justice 9, 27 (2021).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40352-021-00150-w


  • COVID-19
  • Custodial settings
  • Forensic psychiatric facilities
  • Guidance
  • Immigration detention
  • Prevention and control
  • Prisons
  • Rapid review
  • Recommendations
  • Youth detention


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