On Life Support: Public Health in the Age of Mass Incarceration
Date:  11-20-2014

Disease in correctional facilities "unacceptably high" and almost "invisible to health system"
A new report from the Vera Institute of Justice, "On Life Support: Public Health in the Age of Mass Incarceration." reveals the dramatic impact mass incarceration has on public health, including the infant mortality rate in America. From the report:

While people in correctional facilities are mostly excluded from national health surveys, an extensive literature review reveals that this population has dramatically higher rates of disease than the general population, and that correctional facilities too often serve as ill-equipped treatment providers of last resort for medically underserved, marginalized people

The large-scale expansion of incarceration has become one such factor in the constellation of social determinants of health. Over the last 40 years the criminal justice system has expanded to such a degree that, today, mass incarcarceration is one of the major contributors to poor health in communities. Since the 1970s, the correctional population in the U.S. has grown by 700 percent and, from 1982 to 2001, state expenditures on corrections increased each year, outpacing overall budget growth, and swelling from $15 billion to $53.5 billion, adjusted for inflation. Since then, expenditures on incarceration have hovered around $50 billion.

Mass incarceration is one of a series of interrelated factors that has stretched the social and economic fabric of communities, contributing to diminished educational opportunities, fractured family structures, stagnated economic mobility, limited housing options, restricted access to essential social entitlements, and reduced neighborhood cohesiveness. In turn, these collateral consequences have widened the gap in health outcomes along racial and socioeconomic gradients in significant ways. For example, research in epidemiology indicates that had the U.S. incarceration rate remained at its 1973 level, then the infant mortality rate would have been 7.8 percent lower than it was in 2003, and disparity between black and white infant deaths nearly 15 percent lower.

Read the full report here.