Imprisonment and (inequality in) population health

Publication Date: 
January 2012
Social Science Research 41:74-91

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This article extends research on the consequences of mass imprisonment and the factors shaping population health and health inequalities by considering the associations between imprisonment and population health-measured as life expectancy at birth and the infant mortality rate-and black-white differences in population health using state-level panel data from the United States (N=669), 1980-2004. Results show that imprisonment is significantly associated with poorer population health, though associations between imprisonment and infant mortality and female life expectancy are somewhat more consistently statistically significant than are associations with male life expectancy, and associations are more pronounced and statistically significant for blacks than they are for whites. Results also show, however, that increases in imprisonment are associated with decreases in the mortality rates of young black men. Thus, though imprisonment tends to be associated with higher mortality risk and greater black-white differences in mortality, it may, in the short-run, have some paradoxical mortality benefits for young black men.