Study: Some African Americans Live Longer in Prison

Jul 15, 2011· 1 MIN READ
Andrew Freeman is a California native with a degree in history from UCLA. He is particularly interested in politics and policy.
Is healthcare better behind bars? (Photo: Lucy Nicholson/ Reuters)

Has healthcare in the U.S. become so compromised that some people have a better chance of living longer in prison?

In North Carolina, this just might be the case for a percentage of its inmate population. A study in the Annals of Epidemiology found that African American males in North Carolina are likely to live longer if they are in prison.

Comparing mortality rates among North Carolina residents and inmates, the study concluded that inmates were less likely to die of alcohol- and drug-related deaths and some chronic diseases.

The findings have reignited the debate on healthcare spending, suggesting prisoners receive better access to care than many Americans can afford.

As reported by Reuters:

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.

"Ironically, prisons are often the only provider of medical care accessible by these under-served and vulnerable Americans," said Hung-En Sung of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

"Typically, prison-based care is more comprehensive than what inmates have received prior to their admission," Sung, who wasn't involved in the new study, told Reuters Health by email.

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.

State Senator Michael Rubio of Bakersfield is fighting for the passage of SB 484, requiring the state to reduce spending on inmate healthcare to the same level as the state's per-patient Medi-Cal spending.