Not just behind bars: having an incarcerated family member can lead to a shorter life

Having one family member incarcerated predicts almost a two year drop in life expectancy, according to new root from universities across the country

We go to the Prison Policy Initiative for this week’s study by Emily Widra, “New data: People with incarcerated loved ones have shorter life expectancies and poorer health.” 

Screenshot from the Prison Policy Initiative

  • People with three or more incarcerated immediate family members are not as likely to report “thriving” mental or physical health as people with fewer incarcerated family members or no incarcerated family members.

  • People who do not meet the “thriving” criteria are more likely to report difficulty accessing basic food and shelter, health issues, and less access to health insurance and care.

Screenshot from the Prison Policy Initiative

  • People with incarcerated immediate or extended family members are more likely to be Black, live in a low-income household, have a history of substance use disorder, and personal incarceration.

  • Black people were twice as likely to report having multiple family members incarcerated as white respondents.

  • Black people were eight times as likely to report having an immediate family member in jail or prison for at least ten years as white people who responded.

Screenshot from the Prison Policy Initiative 

  • Mass incarceration has shortened the overall U.S. life expectancy by two years.

  • Each year in prison decreases an individual’s life expectancy by around two years.

  • The life expectancy of people with one immediate family member incarcerated or formerly incarcerated decreases by 2.6 years.

  • The life expectancy of people with more than three immediate family members with a history of incarceration drops by 4.6 years.

The Prison Policy Initiative highlights that the U.S. mass incarceration system damages the health and well-being of Americans regardless of their own involvement with the criminal justice system.

Read the whole report here.


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