African American Men's Health and Incarceration: Access to Care upon Reentry and Eliminating Invisible Punishments

Katzen, Amy L.
October 2011
Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice;2011, Vol. 26 Issue 2, p221
Academic Journal
African American men suffer worse health outcomes and have a lower life expectancy than other demographic groups. The disproportionately high incarceration rates of African American men for drug and other crimes is a crucial factor in understanding and combating health inequities. Being imprisoned is very bad for inmates' health because of damaging physical conditions and high levels of stress, as well as poor prison health care. Upon release, formerly incarcerated individuals have trouble accessing routine health care and are deprived of the traditional social safety net of health insurance, housing assistance, food assistance, and cash benefits. Unfortunately, constitutional challenges to prison health care systems are unlikely to eliminate the health risks of being incarcerated. Therefore, this Commentary argues that we must provide free or low-cost, culturally competent health care immediately and seamlessly upon prisoner release and work to reduce the impact of "invisible punishments," those civil penalties that deny formerly incarcerated individuals access to social programs. Because these health disparities are avoidable, society has a moral imperative to reduce and eventually eliminate them.


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