Released Prisoners Are at High Risk for Death

Freedom seems to be more
dangerous for prisoners than jail

The study was conducted by Ingrid Binswanger, MD, of the University of Colorado at Denver. In the first study of its kind in the U.S., Binswanger analysed data from 30,237 inmates released from prison between 1999 and 2003 in Washington state. The sample represented almost all prisoners released during that time. Of those individuals, 443 died during an average follow-up time of 1.9 years.

The death rates of the released prisoners were compared to the death rates of other Washington residents of the same age, gender, and race. The study found that newly released prisoners were 12.7 times as likely to die in the two weeks following their release compared to other state residents in the same demographic groups. Over the whole study, the former inmates were 3.5 times more likely to die than other state residents. The death rate among former inmates was considerably higher than the death rate among inmates in prison.

The leading causes of death were drug overdose, cardiovascular disease, homicide and suicide. Nearly one quarter of the deaths were a result of drug overdose, and half of these deaths resulted from cocaine. After cocaine, most overdose deaths were caused by methamphetamine and opiates like heroin. Lung cancer represented half of all the cancer deaths in this population.

Younger individuals tended to die from overdose, homicide and suicide, whereas older individuals tended to die from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Binswanger recommends programs targeted by age to address this difference.

“The U.S. has exceptionally high rates of incarceration,” said Binswanger. “When a released prisoner dies, it may have an impact beyond his own life, affecting families and communities. These findings suggest that we need programs and policies targeted at decreasing the risk of death as former inmates transition back into their communities.”; Source: University of Colorado