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Mass Incarceration, Public Health, and Widening Inequality in the USA

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2017
11 pages
This article examines how mass incarceration shapes inequality in health.
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 significant harmful effects on physical and mental health after release. The emerging literature on the family and community effects of mass incarceration has identified the adverse health impacts on the female partners and children of incarcerated men, raising concerns that excessive incarceration could harm entire communities. The United States is the world leader in incarceration, which disproportionately affects Black populations. Nearly one in three Black men will be imprisoned in their lifetimes; and nearly half of Black women currently have a family member or extended family member who is in prison. Excessive incarceration might partly underlie health disparities among racial/ethnic groups in the United States and between the United States and other developed countries. Research into interventions, policies, and practices that could mitigate the harms to health of incarceration and the post-incarceration period is urgently needed, particularly research that uses rigorous experimental or quasi-experimental designs. (Publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2017