High Rate of Incarcerated Blacks Impedes Health Research
Date:  05-29-2014

Dr Emily Wang writes on “The Effect of Incarceration on the Epidemiology of Heart Disease”
Dr. Emily Wang, an Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Medicine, has long recognized that the health issues of incarcerated individuals. She also realizes that those medical problems continue to plague formerly incarcerated people. Wang is a co-founder of the Transitions Clinic Network, which provides health services to those who are newly released from prison or jail. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services presents some sobering facts about those reintegrating back into the community:

  • More than 70 percent of the approximately 700,000 people released from U.S. Federal and State prisons each year have chronic medical, substance abuse, and other mental health problems. The need for treatment often competes with other important issues, such as finding housing, obtaining employment, and reuniting with their families.

  • Few prison systems release individuals with medications, health insurance, or referrals to needed services, such as primary care. In most instances, recently released prisoners are left on their own to find much-needed medical and social services.

  • Individuals recently released from prison use the ED more frequently and face higher risk of death than do members of the general population. For example, in California those released from prison have higher rates of death during the first 2 weeks after release, with deaths most often being attributed to a drug overdose. Other causes include heart disease, homicide, and suicide.

    Wang is concerned that research on heart disease, particularly among black males, is being adversely affected due to racial disparity in America’s criminal justice system. Black men enrolled in medical studies are too often incarcerated, not because they committed more crimes than their white counterparts, but because racial discrimination in sentencing is a common problem in the U.S.

    When a person participating in a medical study is incarcerated he or she is eliminated from the study because of a law passed 36 years ago which prohibits inmates to be involved in medical studies. The law was created because prisoners were subjected to questionable research. Wang believes that it is imperative for participants who were enrolled in a study to continue to be followed if they are incarcerated. Otherwise, she states, “…this may compromise studies of health outcomes in minority populations, particularly studies involving black men, who are disproportionately incarcerated.

    Read Wang’s blog, Read Wang’s blog,"The Effect of Incarceration on the Epidemiology of Heart Disease."