Black men are half as likely to die at any given time if they’re in prison than if they aren’t, suggests a new study of North Carolina inmates.
The black prisoners seemed to be especially protected against alcohol- and drug-related deaths, as well as lethal accidents and certain chronic diseases.
But that pattern didn’t hold for white men, who on the whole were slightly more likely to die in prison than outside, according to findings published in Annals of Epidemiology.
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 underserved 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 new study involved about 100,000 men between age 20 and 79 who were held in North Carolina prisons at some point between 1995 and 2005. Sixty percent of those men were black.
Researchers linked prison and state health records to determine which of the inmates died, and of what causes, during their prison stay. Then they compared those figures with expected deaths in men of the same age and race in the general population.
Less than one percent of men died during incarceration, and there was no difference between black and white inmates. But outside prison walls, blacks have a higher rate of death at any given age than whites.