Sociology, Department of


First Advisor

Lisa Kort-Butler

Date of this Version



A thesis presented to the faculty of the Graduate College at the University of Nebraska in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Master of Arts

Major: Sociology

Under the supervision of Professor Lisa Kort-Butler

Lincoln, Nebraska, December 2023


Copyright 2023, Kimberly Rivera


The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the population as a whole. However, the incarcerated population (which also experiences a variety of health disparities) has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Due to overcrowding, poor ventilation, and lack of resources, the incarcerated population already is at a heightened risk for negative health outcomes, made worse by the recent pandemic. To adapt to the rapidly changing conditions during the pandemic in 2020 and into 2022, new safety measures were implemented, but the unintended consequences associated with the implementation of these procedures have yet to be examined empirically. I conducted a qualitative content analysis on audio recordings and letters from those incarcerated across the United States during the 2020-2022 pandemic to capture how changes in safety operations and changes in the daily life of prisoners have greatly impacted prisoners’ physical and mental health. Main findings show themes surrounding the negative physical and mental health outcomes exacerbated by lack of in-person visitation from loved ones and restriction of recreational activities and programs, anxieties surrounding COVID-19 infection due to poor sanitation, overcrowding, and pre-existing health conditions, as well as the lack of access to health care for other health complications besides COVID-19.

Advisor: Lisa Kort-Butler