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April 9, 2017

"Mass incarceration, public health, and widening inequality in the USA"

The title of this post is the title of this new Lancet article authored by Christopher Wildeman and Emily Wang.  Here is the summary:

In this Series paper, we examine how mass incarceration shapes inequality in health.  The USA is the world leader in incarceration, which disproportionately affects black populations.  Nearly one in three black men will ever be imprisoned, and nearly half of black women currently have a family member or extended family member who is in prison. However, until recently the public health implications of mass incarceration were unclear.  Most research in this area has focused on the health of current and former inmates, with findings suggesting that incarceration could produce some short-term improvements in physical health during imprisonment but has profoundly harmful effects on physical and mental health after release. The emerging literature on the family and community effects of mass incarceration points to negative health impacts on the female partners and children of incarcerated men, and raises concerns that excessive incarceration could harm entire communities and thus might partly underlie health disparities both in the USA and between the USA and other developed countries.  Research into interventions, policies, and practices that could mitigate the harms of incarceration and the post-incarceration period is urgently needed, particularly studies using rigorous experimental or quasi-experimental designs.

The Lancet piece is behind a pay-wall; this Atlantic article provides a helpful account of its themes. Here is an excerpt from the Atlantic coverage:

For children and communities, the impacts of a parent’s incarceration are unequivocally bad, write study authors Christopher Wildeman of Cornell University and Emily Wang of Yale. Kids whose fathers go to jail are at increased risk of depression, anxiety, learning disabilities, and obesity, and they are more likely to do drugs later in life. Because criminal records dampen job opportunities, according to some studies people who live in neighborhoods with high levels of incarceration are more likely to experience asthma from dilapidated housing. These consequences are especially severe for children of color: Because black men are jailed disproportionately, a black child born in 1990 had a one-in-four chance of having their father imprisoned, Wildeman and Wong write.

When imprisoned fathers return home, “they have trouble finding employment,” says Kristin Turney, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine, who has studied the health of inmates’ children but was not involved with the study.  Part of the explanation is reduced income, she said, and “part of it is the relationship between the parents. Maintaining romantic partnerships while incarcerated is tricky, so it can lead to more [familial] conflict.”

But, paradoxically, going to prison can actually improve health — at least temporarily — for some inmates. Black male inmates, the authors write, have a lower mortality rate than similarly aged black men who aren’t in jail.  The reason?  The risk of death from violent accidents, overdoses on drugs or alcohol, and homicides is much lower in prison than it is in the neighborhoods where these men would be living otherwise.  What’s more, before the Affordable Care Act was passed, many states made it all but impossible for low-income, childless men to obtain health care.  Under the ACA, 32 states expanded Medicaid to cover all poor adults, but 19 have not.  Because of that, Wildeman and Wang write, prison is the first time many incarcerated young men receive regular health care.

The drop in mortality “is just an indicator of how dangerous the environment for African-Americans is on the outside, rather than being a function of how good the medical care is that they’re receiving” in prison, Wildeman told me.  (This health boost excludes the effect of solitary confinement, which has well-known, horrific consequences for mental health.)

April 9, 2017 at 12:08 PM | Permalink

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Of some interest to readers of this blog, Chris Hayes' new book provides a personal look at inequality in the criminal justice system, including using the history of the American Revolution to compare it to the current situation. He inserts some personal history throughout. His discussion of how fines from traffic violations were particularly noxious in some areas was also a segment on John Oliver.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 9, 2017 12:11:03 PM

The fines issue continues to be an issue ... I have a tendency to use the past tense even when it isn't warranted.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 9, 2017 12:11:56 PM

Lancet? The Huff Post of medical journals. Left wing British medical propaganda. Self dealing, rent seeking trash.

The authors? Cornell and Yale. What? Dismissed. Ivy assholes. If they did not promulgate lying, left wing propaganda, they would be driven out of those left wing, treason indoctrination camps.

1) I invite the defense lawyers to chime in. Are you a little stressed, a little scared, when speaking to the vicious, heartless, inhuman super predators whom you protect, privilege, and empower, even during brief meetings, even with them in cuffs? Imagine, being a kid, and not being to leave the house, with a guy maintaining a criminal business and an active addiction in your home; children are 100 time better off with less contact with these super-predators;

2) how do children learn? They barely know any English with vocabularies in the hundreds of words. If their attention span exceeds 2 minute, you have a little genius there. So do they learn by parsing the rule making and lectures of their parents and teachers about doing the right thing? No. They imitate what people say and do in their surroundings. These Ivy assholes want to put people in the homes of children, each committing hundreds of crimes a year, many violent;

3)who hangs out with these criminals, and visits the home? Is it the people of God? It is other people with no morals. So, even if the criminal parent does not use the little girls in the house as fuck dolls, his pals will;

4)child abuse has decreased. Try to guess how that happened? Sex offender registries? Making everyone a mandated reporter? No, assholes, it happened when the child rapists ended up in stir for their non-violent crime of selling drugs.

Rent seeking makes people other people than lawyers really stupid. I have not been addressing medical rent seeking, and please do not ask me to. It is ten times bigger than lawyer rent seeking and 100 times more toxic.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 9, 2017 3:59:29 PM

Side topic. I commend law reviews for making their content available to the public, for free.

Medical journals must do the same. Medical scholars should submit articles only to medical journals that are open to the public.

The public actually already paid for the content in the form of the tax support of research grants, faculty salary subsidies, and payments for the patient care involved in the research.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 9, 2017 4:16:24 PM


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