Academic journal article Demographic Research

State-Level Variation in the Imprisonment-Mortality Relationship, 2001-2010

Academic journal article Demographic Research

State-Level Variation in the Imprisonment-Mortality Relationship, 2001-2010

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

As the US imprisonment rate has increased, scholars have realized that the penal system has an impact upon the health and wellbeing of the men and women who come into contact with it (Drucker 2014; Fazel and Baillargeon 2011; Massoglia 2008; Schnittker and John 2007; Wang et al. 2014; Wildeman and Muller 2012). This insight was driven in part by how imprisonment shapes mortality. While imprisoned males, especially nonHispanic black imprisoned males, die at significantly lower rates than males in the general population, former prisoners die at very high rates (Binswanger et al. 2007; Mumola 2007; Noonan 2013; Patterson 2010; Spaulding et al. 2011; Rosen, Schoenbach, and Wohl 2008; Rosen, Wohl, and Schoenbach 2011).

Research on the imprisonment-mortality relationship has to date focused primarily on national estimates of this relationship for non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black males, with minimal attention paid to how the imprisonment-mortality relationship varies across states (but see Noonan 2013; Rosen, Wohl, and Schoenbach 2011; Spaulding et al. 2011) and whether the lower-than-expected mortality rates of non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black inmates can also be found among female inmates and Hispanic inmates. These omissions are unfortunate because the research considering such variation implies substantial variations across states, racial/ethnic groups, and sexes (Mumola 2007; Noonan 2013). In this article, we fill this gap by considering the imprisonment-mortality relationship across seven to nine states for nonHispanic white (hereafter "white"), non-Hispanic black (hereafter "black"), and Hispanic males and females.

2. Data and method

2.1 Data

We used data from the Deaths in Custody Reporting Program, the National Prisoner Statistics, and the National Corrections Reporting Program (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2014a, 2014b, 2014c) to estimate the crude and age-specific mortality rates of 18-54 year old (a) male state prisoners in nine states (California, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington) and (b) female state prisoners in seven states (excluding Utah and Washington). All analyses collapsed 10 years of data (2001-2010). We selected these states because they reported annually to the National Corrections Reporting Program, had low levels of missing data on race/ethnicity, and had at least 10 deaths among state prisoners over the period. We focus on individuals in the 18-54 age range to consider how imprisonment shapes the risk of premature mortality, but future analyses should also consider mortality at older ages.

Since 2001, the Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (hereafter "DCRP") has collected information on the age, sex, and race/ethnicity for each individual who died in a state prison. All 50 state departments of corrections have participated since 2001, thus providing a total custodial death count of all state prisoners. The DCRP data provide a more precise count of the number of deaths than the National Prisoner Statistics data (hereafter NPS) for two reasons. First, since the DCRP data are based on individual records whereas the NPS data are limited to aggregate counts, there is no risk of doublecounting in the DCRP. Second, the DCRP includes information on all inmates who die while in the custody of a prison, while the NPS data include only sentenced inmates, representing 97% of state prisoners (Carson 2015).

Data from the NPS and the National Corrections Reporting Program (hereafter NCRP) provide the denominator for our in-prison mortality estimates. By averaging year-end custody counts from the NCRP and the NPS, we can generate estimates of the total mid-year population of prisoners in each state, as well as the race/ethnicity, sex, and age distribution of the penal population. We rely on the mid-year population count of state prisoners rather than yearend counts because this provides the closest approximation of person-years lived during the year. …

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