Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Stephanie A. Bohon

Committee Members

Michelle Brown, Timothy Gill, Wendy Bach


The COVID-19 pandemic introduced numerous unprecedented political, social, and economic challenges that resulted in unprecedented responses by policy makers. As result, existing inequalities and injustices rooted in a dense history of structural and institutional violence were uncovered and exacerbated. As of June 2021, at least 398,627 people in prison tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 2,715 had died (The Marshall Project 2021). In the United States, the inmate population is disproportionately made up of poor, people of color. This is a pattern that is rooted in the country’s long history of racism and white supremacy. This cycle continues as there have been no meaningful changes to policing practices and no positive changes to policy that could reduce longer prison sentences. Through process tracing and thematic analysis, this dissertation investigates the COVID-19 policy changes under the Trump and Biden administrations related to incarcerated people and measures the impact of these policies. This investigation includes an analysis of state violence through policies directly related to home confinement, vaccine rollouts, and the reduction in cost of communication and medical co-pay in US federal and state prisons. This dissertation questions whether the COVID-19 pandemic could provide the platform for the United States to address mass incarceration, human rights violations, and systematic violence occurring within the criminal justice system through transitional justice. New attempts at justice would entail listening to the voices and demands of the those targeted and harmed by the justice system and dismantling the structural inequalities and discrimination that allow violations to occur in the first place. A transitional justice approach requires “carrying out the necessary reforms of state institutions, such as the judiciary, law enforcement agencies, prisons, and education and health care systems, that reinforce and perpetuate such discrimination” (Travesi, 2020). For the United States, this would be a direct recognition of the ways in which oppression, racism, and discrimination have persisted for centuries and offer new ways to address mass incarceration in the country.

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