Black male prisoners in North Carolina have considerably lower mortality rates than black residents of that State

Research Activities, July 2012, No. 383

A study comparing mortality rates between North Carolina State prisoners and residents has found that black prisoners have lower mortality rates than black residents for accidents, homicides, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. The number of deaths among black male prisoners was 48 percent less than expected. White prisoners, by contrast, had higher mortality rates for several chronic causes of death but lower rates for accidents. Overall, the death rate among white male prisoners was not significantly different than that of white male residents.

Despite the lower age-adjusted mortality rates among black prisoners compared to black residents, the researchers emphasize that their study did not capture the many possible negative consequences of imprisonment such as loss of employment opportunities and broken relationships.

The researchers suggest several ways in which imprisonment may protect against or contribute to mortality. The relatively rigid provision of food, shelter, security, and medical and ancillary services may all affect mortality in prison. Similar mortality rates across races may be related to similar exposures to prison resources and environmental elements. Previous research suggests that the mortality rate of released white prisoners was about twice that of other whites in the community, while the mortality rate among released black prisoners was similar to other black residents. Also, some previous studies suggest that some chronic conditions may be less prevalent among black than white prisoners, and also less than those of blacks in the general population. In the general population, both in the United States and in North Carolina, mortality is approximately 40 percent greater among the black than the white population.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with an estimated 1 in 100 adults behind bars on any given day. A consequence of this mass incarceration is that prisons have become an important source of health care for a portion of America's poor. The study included 120,959 North Carolina prisoners between the ages of 20 and 79 during the period 1995–2005. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS19442).

See "All-cause and cause-specific mortality among black and white North Carolina state prisoners, 1995- 2005," by David L. Rosen, M.D., Ph.D., David A. Wohl, M.D., and Victor J. Schoenbach, Ph.D., in the Annals of Epidemiology 21, pp. 719-726, 2011.


Current as of July 2012
Internet Citation: Black male prisoners in North Carolina have considerably lower mortality rates than black residents of that State: Research Activities, July 2012, No. 383. July 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.