Most alarming are the differences in incarceration by race. Blacks are incarcerated at a rate more than 6 times higher than white non-Hispanic males and 2.6 times higher than Hispanic males.
The majority of all inmates have been imprisoned as a result of the “war on drugs” and the “tough on crime” criminal justice policies. These policies have resulted in the U.S. having the highest incarceration rate in the world and have impacted us all, but the greatest long-term impact has been felt on the black community. In the United States in 2009, over 7.2 million people were under some form of correctional supervision including Probation, Prison, Jail and Parole. Additionally, there are estimated to be more than 16 million felons and ex-felons in the United States which represents 7.5% of the entire adult population, 22.3% of the black adult population, and an astounding 33.4% of the black adult male population.
These numbers are staggering and they matter to us all. Depending on their state of residence, these individuals may lose parental rights, the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, and the right to hold public office. In many states, their criminal history is public record and is readily searchable for anyone who wants to know.
There are life long consequences to the health of individuals and communities, that go far beyond the results that are related to the potential political consequences of incarceration, outcomes that are worthy of discussion.
What does it mean to the mental health and the social norms of a community and its individuals when a significant portion of the men in the community are arrested and imprisoned? What happens to long-term relationships such as husband and wife, father and son when the man of the house is incarcerated or re- incarcerated? Consider, that more than 7% of African American children currently have an incarcerated parent, with a far greater number who have parents that are ex-prisoners, ex-felons, and felons currently serving sentences outside of prison.
There are many health outcomes as a result of incarnation. For example, the correctional commission estimates that over 20% of all individuals in the United States infected with HIV and close to 40% of individuals infected with hepatitis C pass through correctional institutions in a given year. Out breaks of tuberculosis have been traced to correctional facilities (with the rates of tuberculosis in Rikers Island reported to be higher than the rates in many third world countries).
There is much more that can be said on the topic, but there are two conclusions that one significant study has made that are worth quoting and concluding this post: Incarceration has significant long-term effects on physical health, and incarceration plays a role in perpetuating racial inequalities in health.
What are your thoughts?