The Impact of Health Challenges on Criminal Recidivism among Male Returning Prisoners
The Research Team
Principal Investigator: Sung-suk Violet Yu, Ph.D.
Research Assistant: Emily Diaz (BA, Class 2012), Sheneeka Saul (BA, Class 2012), Quanisha Simmons (BA, Class 2013)
Overview: This study examines the reentry process through a series of in-person survey and focus group interviews with a sample of 120 male returning prisoners before and after their release from a maximum security prison (the Sing Sing Correctional facility) in New York. The project has three distinctive goals. First, researchers are documenting the health challenges returning prisoners in urban areas face. Second, they will explore two potential relationships and their interaction: (1) Linkages between public health and public safety harms; and (2)
socioeconomic and racial disparities in health and medical care. Lastly, I will reflect on the possibility of incorporating healthcare as an integral component of justice administration and crime prevention in the United States.
Why Study the Linkages between Health Problems and Criminal Behavior? Medical conditions, mental health problems, and criminal recidivism are endemic among former inmates recently released from prisons. The first year
of post-release existence is characterized by high rates of risky sexual behaviors, substance abuse, deaths from chronic diseases, accidents or violence, and criminal recidivism. Whereas most researchers believe that the two
maladies are concurrent crises, I propose to model the linkages between health challenges and criminal involvement as mutually reinforcing maladies.
In 2008, more than 1.6 million adult Americans were incarcerated in state prisons, and most of them will be eventually released to community. The state prison population display high prevalence of health problems ranging from physical ailments owing to chronic illness, developmental impairments, mental health issues, and accidental traumas during the course of incarceration. Almost 60% of all state prisoner deaths were attributed to medical conditions which were present at the time of admission. While these statistics paints a grim picture, prison-based care is typically more comprehensive than what inmates would have received prior to their admission.
The health problems prisoners face range from mental health to physical health conditions owing to diseases or accident. The period following inmates’ release is a high-risk period for morbidity and mortality due to drug overdose, cardiovascular disease, suicide and homicide. A retrospective cohort study of all inmates released from the Washington State Department of Corrections reported that released prisoners were at high risk for death after release from prison, particularly during the first two weeks, which were replicated in a similar study done in North
Carolina. Although incarceration has a lasting negative impact on health irrespective of initial risk, this effect is largely driven by the neglect and deprivation following release.
Research Design and Methods: This study adopts a two-wave panel design in which a cohort of 120 male state
prisoners incarcerated in the men-only maximum-security prison of Sing Sing (Ossining, NY) who would soon be released and return to their community are surveyed at two points in time to get a longitudinal view of the reentry
process. Data triangulation is being undertaken to obtain evidence to try to refute the hypothesized association between health challenges and recidivism; failure to falsify my research hypotheses will strengthen confidence in them.
Respondents first complete a face-to-face baseline survey shortly before release and participate in a follow-up interview six months after release. Through these interviews, returning prisoners share their thoughts and experiences related to a number of important reentry issues, such as housing, employment, substance use, and remaining crime-free. Information collected through these interviews is supplemented with medical records
from Sing Sing Correctional Facility and criminal history information from NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services. Additionally, four focus groups of former inmates will be conducted in the community. This data triangulation emphasizes the dynamic aspects of health behaviors, medical conditions, and service utilization, and its scope is broad.
Yu, S. V. (2011). The impact of health challenges on criminal recidivism among male returning prisoners. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association, October 31, Washington, DC. (READ)