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What According to Prison State Are the Consequences of Mass Incarceration for Neighborhoods That Are Most Affected and the Larger State Where These Communities Are Located

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Those 2.3 million individuals have lost their jobs, homes, family connection and freedom. While a prison sentence is supposed to be rehabilitating, many prisoners fall into a cycle of crime due to either being pulled into gang activity, or simply turning to illegal activities for financial aid. Roughly 600,000 prisoners are released each year, but did they come out healthier than when they were incarcerated? The answer, unfortunately, tends to be “no.” Whether it is physical health or mental health, inmates are at risk of exiting prison unhealthier than they went in.

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While America’s prison population has declined slightly over the last couple of years, the number of prisoners still remains very high. In 2011, some 1,598,780 individuals were incarcerated in state and federal prisons (representing a decrease of nearly 1% from 2010). Although relatively small, these recent decreases represent a noteworthy change from the more than quadrupling of prison populations between 1980 and 2010. Nevertheless, incarceration rates remain particularly high for minorities – especially black males – residing in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods. In the poorest communities, the level of concentration is substantial; as many as one-fifth of adult men are incarcerated on any given day. Since most inmates stay in prison for only a few years at a time, the removal and release of imprisoned men has become a prevalent feature of life in these impoverished places. Over the last several decades, an increasing number of scholars have examined whether high incarceration rates might directly or indirectly lead to increased crime in communities. In 1998, Rose and Clear first proposed what has since been referred to as the coercive mobility thesis

Clear had previously argued that incarceration, when conceived of as a crime control policy, might backfire and actually increase crime. He identified at least three reasons why we might expect a backfire effect: (1) recruitment of increasing numbers of young people to replace those incarcerated offenders; (2) the diminishing deterrent effect of incarceration as more and more people experience prison, and (3) the effects that removing people from communities might have on social factors (broken families, increasing inequality, and social disorder) related to crime in those communities. This was an early exposition of the thesis that Rose and Clear would then develop focusing primarily on Clear’s third effect of incarceration – its impact on the fabric of communities. The purpose of this project has been to estimate the impact of “prison cycling”—the flow into and out of prison--on crime rates in communities, with special concern about areas that have high rates of prison cycling. It is well documented that the increase in incarceration nationally over the last 40 years was a factor in the decade-long crime drop seen at the national level, though the size of that impact is much debated among social scientists. It is equally well-known that the rate of incarceration of an area’s residents also has a range of impacts on the crime rates of these “prison cycling” areas.

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Women with a history of incarceration face a greater burden of disease than men with a history of incarceration. Several studies have shown that women with a history of incarceration, compared with men with a history of incarceration, are at greater risk for several diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, HPV, and other sexually transmitted diseases because they are more likely to have experienced childhood trauma, physical and sexual abuse. In addition, female offenders with a history of drug abuse were more likely than their male counterparts to suffer from conditions such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, and high blood pressure (Lemieux CM, 2002). The number of older adults (ages 50 and above) in U.S. prisons is growing. Many correctional facilities, however, are not equipped to address the special health needs of these individuals. While incarcerated, some older inmates do not receive adequate treatment for their ailments particularly mental health conditions. A study found that only 18% of older inmates were prescribed medication to treat their mental health conditions. Reintegrating into society also poses special challenges for older prisoners

Those who have spent significant time in prison may find adjusting to changes that have occurred in society and their specific communities to be stressful, particularly if family support is lacking (Aday RH, 1994). Furthermore, older adults with a history of incarceration are more likely to suffer from abuse and neglect due to lack of family support when compared to their younger counterparts.

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To conclude, it is also clear that continued racial residential segregation exacerbates existing inequalities and fosters severe social and economic disadvantage. More robust enforcement of federal and state fair housing laws will reduce the disparity between minority and majority crime rates

Such action, along with eliminating society’s over use of prisons to confront social problems, will substantially reduce the effects of the collateral consequences from incarceration and coercive mobility on communities of color.

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Aday RH. Golden years behind bars-special programs and facilities for elderly inmates. Federal Probation Journal. 1994;58:47.

Lemieux CM, Dyeson TB, Castiglione B. Revisiting the literature on prisoners who are older: Are we wiser? The Prison Journal. 2002;82:440–58.

Merianos DE, Marquart JW, Damphousse K, Hebert JL. From the outside in: Using public health data to make inferences about older inmates. Crime & Delinquency. 1997;43(3):298–313.

Stojkovic S. Elderly prisoners: A growing and forgotten group within correctional systems vulnerable to elder abuse. Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect. 2007;19(3–4):97–117.

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