Incarceration Destroys Health

Just a few years behind bars can increase risk of death by 80% and shave a decade off a person's life.

Each year, nearly 5 million people are arrested and jailed, with 1 out of every 4 people arrested more than once in that year. A recent analysis concluded that “repeated arrests are related to race and poverty, as well as high rates of mental illness and substance use disorders. Ultimately… people who are jailed have much higher rates of social, economic, and health problems that cannot and should not be addressed through incarceration.” The scale of harm is massive: 1 in 37 Americans is currently under correctional supervision of some kind, and nearly half of Americans have an immediate family member who has been incarcerated, who will suffer the lasting fallout with their loved one.

The impacts of criminalization, poverty, and involvement in the criminal legal system on health are significant and harm children, families, and communities: it is estimated nearly half of In 2012, nearly 7% of youth in the US (5 million youth, 1 in every 14 youth) had experienced parental incarceration at least once during their childhood. Incarceration is identified as a key issue within one of the five social determinants of health domains developed by Healthy People 2030.  Decarceration is a critical public health intervention, and the only way to achieve improved health for the millions of Americans impacted by this issue is to simply stop using cages as our primary form of accountability. 

We at PFJ know it can be hard to gather a lay-of-the-land for an issue as complex as this, and created an easy-to-use resource, gathering some of the current research on the lethality of incarceration.

To read our full report, download the PDF below.

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