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David Heitz

Family members of jailed die sooner, study shows

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David Heitz
David Heitz
 22 days ago
Pawel Czerwinski/Unsplash

A study published today in Journal of the American Medical Association shows family members of incarcerated individuals also a pay a price when their loved one goes to jail.

“These findings suggest that family member health and well-being may be an important avenue through which incarceration is associated with racial disparities in health and mortality,” the authors conclude in their abstract. “Decarceration (releasing people from jail) efforts may improve population-level well-being and life expectancy by minimizing detrimental outcomes associated with incarceration among non-incarcerated family members.”

The study looked at 2,815 individuals, 51.7 percent women and 62.8 percent non-Hispanic white. Most were in the 35 to 54 age range. A total of 1,806 respondents, or 45 percent, reported having an immediate family member who was incarcerated.

“This nationally representative cross-sectional study used data from the 2018 Family History of Incarceration Survey to examine how experiences of family member incarceration were associated with a holistic measure of well-being, including physical, mental, social, financial, and spiritual domains,” the authors explained. “Well-being was used to estimate change in life expectancy and was compared across varying levels of exposure to immediate and extended family member incarceration…. Data were analyzed from October 2019 to April 2020.”

Compared with respondents with no family incarceration, any family member incarceration was associated with lower well-being overall. In the general thriving category, 69.5 percent vs 56.9 percent reported high scores. In physical thriving, 51.1 percent vs 35.5 percent reported higher levels of wellness. Those with incarcerated family members had a mean estimated three months shorter life expectancy than those without incarcerated family members. Among those with any family incarceration, black respondents had an estimated five fewer months of life expectancy compared with white respondents.

The research was conducted by Dr. Ram Sundaresh of the University of California Department of Internal Medicine, Yi Youngmin of University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Department of Sociology and Tyler Harvey of the Yale School of Medicine SEICHE Center for Health and Justice.

Half of U.S. has had a jailed family member

“More than half of the adult population in the United States has ever had a family member incarcerated, an experience more common among Black individuals,” according to the study. “The impacts of family incarceration on well-being are not fully understood.”

Incarceration in the United States has reached unprecedented levels, according to the authors.

More than half the adult population in the United States has ever had a family member incarcerated. That statistic is 65 percent among Black individuals.

“A sizeable body of evidence has illustrated the impacts of incarceration on particular facets of family life of incarcerated individuals,” according to the study. “Having a family member incarcerated can damage the economic stability of already financially tenuous families, who are then at greater risk of criminal legal system involvement. Individuals with family members who are incarcerated are more likely to have reduced social support owing to community stigma attached to incarceration. This reduced social support spans generations, with children and grandparents experiencing stigmatization and financial consequences and grandparents experiencing caregiver burden.”

Health consequences for those who have incarcerated family members run the gamut. “Women with partners who are incarcerated are more likely to experience depression, hypertension, and diabetes,” the study reports. “Children with parents who are incarcerated are at greater risk of having worse mental health, substance use, and obesity, with potential long-term risks into adulthood.

“Although there is limited research examining the intergenerational health outcomes associated with incarceration, there is evidence that grandparents with adult children who are incarcerated experience greater psychological distress and depression, especially those with caregiving roles.”

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