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Experts draw link between incarceration rates and lower life expectancy in U.S.

While the recent drop in life expectancy has been attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and a spike in drug overdoses, some academic experts and activists said the trend also underscores the lasting health consequences of mass incarceration (Source: “As US Life Expectancy Falls, Experts Cite the Health Impacts of Incarceration,” Kaiser Health News, April 27).

A major reason the U.S. trails other developed countries in life expectancy is because it has more people behind bars and keeps them there far longer, said Chris Wildeman, a Duke University sociology professor who has researched the link between criminal justice and life expectancy.

Although no one has proven that incarceration alone shortens life expectancy, research from the early 2000s did show the death rate for people leaving prison was 3.5 times higher than for the rest of the population in the first few years after release. Another study found that currently or formerly incarcerated Black people suffered a 65% higher mortality rate than their non-Black peers.

Over the past several years, HPIO has developed several resources exploring the connection between criminal justice and health.