Ex-prisoners more likely to die early death, study finds

BY Ellen Rolfes  May 15, 2014 at 11:54 AM EDT
Ex-inmates have a greater exposure to disease and maintain higher levels of stress than men who have never been imprisoned, which leads them to die earlier, according to a new study.

Ex-inmates’ exposure to disease and their high levels of stress lead them to die earlier, according to a new study from Georgia State University. Photo by Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Men who are incarcerated and released are more than twice as likely to die prematurely as those who have not been imprisoned.

Georgia State University criminologist William Pridemore has found that ex-prisoners are more likely die early from disease, drug overdose, accidental poisoning and homicide than people who don’t spend time in prison.

Exposure to infectious diseases, such as HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis and the stress of the prison environment increases the likelihood of contracting disease.

“We know that stress can weaken immune systems,” Pridemore said, according to a press release. “And in a very unpleasant twist of events, at the precise moment when these men are most vulnerable to a compromised immune system due to stress — that is, when they are incarcerated — they are most exposed to a host of communicable diseases whose rates are much higher in the prison population.”

Pridemore used data that was collected for a family study in Izhevsk, Russia, a city in the Vogal region of eastern Russia. The study includes 3,500 cases of ex-inmates living in Izhevsk, who had died between 2003 and 2005. A team of more than 30 interviewers surveyed people living in the same household as the deceased ex-prisoners six to eight weeks after the men’s deaths.

“On one hand, the data come from Russia, and so in a strict sense we should generalize only to that population,” Pridemore told PBS NewsHour in an email.

“On the other hand, there are reasons to believe that general conclusions should not be terribly different between the U.S. and Russia. There are several prior studies that show effects of incarceration on illness and on mortality that used samples from the U.S.”

The U.S. and Russia have the highest incarceration rates in the world, at 724 people per 100,000 in the U.S. and 581 per 100,000 in Russia.

Pridemore said that one of the difficulties to further studies is that most research depends on data collected by other agencies or groups for reasons other than studying prison populations’ health outcomes.

The health outcomes and mortality rates of ex-inmates, the study points out, also have serious health implications for the communities where men live after prison and therefore deserve further study.