Reuters is reporting that a new study of North Carolina inmates suggests that black men are half as likely to die at any given time if they're in prison than if they are not. The findings, published in Annals of Epidemiology, were based on a study that involved about 100,000 men between age 20 and 79 who were held in North Carolina prisons at some point between 1995 and 2005. Less than one percent of men (more than half of whom were black) in total died while in prison, and there was no difference between black and white inmates in that regard. But outside prison, blacks have a higher rate of death at any given age than whites.
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Causes of death during incarceration. Reuters notes that, as in the general population, "cancer and heart and blood vessel diseases were the most common cause of death among inmates, -- accounting for more than half of deaths." But while white prison prisoners died of cardiovascular diseases similarly in prison as outside, and of cancer only slightly more so in prison than outside, black inmates were between "30 and 40 percent less likely to die of those causes than those who weren't incarcerated."
The black prisoners seemed to be especially protected against alcohol- and drug-related deaths, as well as lethal accidents and certain chronic diseases... They were also less likely to die of diabetes, alcohol- and drug-related causes, airway diseases, accidents, suicide and murder than black men not in prison.
The racial divide. Overall, for white men, the death rate was about 12 percent higher in prison that outside, with "some of that attributed to higher rates of death from infection, including HIV and hepatitis." The divide only occurred for white inmates over the age of 50. But for black men, "their risk of death at any age was only half that of men living in the community."
Sadly, Reuters reports that this is not all that surprising. "Researchers say it's not the first time a study has found lower death rates among certain groups of inmates -- particularly disadvantaged people, who might get protection against violent injuries and murder." Study author Dr. David Rosen of the University of North Carolina said, according to the New York Daily News, that "for some populations, being in prison likely provides benefits in regards to access to healthcare and life expectancy."
The findings were viewed with obvious dismay by media outlets and blogs throughout, and calls for greater expenditure on healthcare. The Atlanta Post wrote:
The findings of the study are bleak but may lead to greater improvements in healthcare. If prisoners are better off in prison, then what does that say about the conditions plaguing low-income communities and the services being offered to people of color?
And Take Part attempted to put some dollar figures to these results:
The National Institute for Healthcare Management found in 2009 that national healthcare spending per person totaled $8,100 or 17.6 percent of the GDP.
California, according to their Legislative Analysts Office, annually spends $16,000 per inmate on healthcare. With roughly 160,000 inmates, prisoner healthcare costs exceed $2.5 billion per year.