Public health

People in prisons and jails struggle disproportionately with substance use, mental illness, and other health problems. But all too often, correctional healthcare is low-quality and difficult to access. It's also expensive: Astonishingly, most prisons charge incarcerated people a co-pay for doctor visits. Prison and jail conditions, meanwhile, are often health disasters.

The downstream effects are clear: Mass incarceration has shortened the overall U.S. life expectancy by 5 years. These harms extend beyond incarcerated people to their families and communities. Below is our key research into the public health effects of incarceration:



report thumbnailArrest, Release, Repeat: How police and jails are misused to respond to social problems

At least 4.9 million people go to county and city jails each year, our national analysis shows. We find that people who go to jail - particularly those who go more than once a year - are more likely to have preexisting health problems.


issue thumbnailDrug policy

One of the worst criminal justice policy failures — responding to drug use with punishment rather than care — also puts public health at risk.

issue thumbnailCollateral consequences

Tens of millions of people are dealing with the "collateral consequences" of punishment: effects such as homelessness that last long after someone has served their sentence. These harms also impact public health.

issue thumbnailCommunication and contact

Visits and phone calls mitigate the harmful effects of prolonged isolation behind bars. But jails and prisons make staying in touch difficult, particularly for poor families.

Research Library

Didn't find what you were looking for? We also curate a database of virtually all the empirical criminal justice research available online. See the sections of our Research Library on public health, mental health, and conditions of confinement.

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