All Articles Tagged "african american longevity"
So you know that meme that has been making rounds about black men living longer in prison? Well, it has been bothering me all week, but probably not for the reasons which the study might have been bothering you all.
The study, originally published by Reuters, compared North Carolina prison records with state death records from 1995–2005 to estimate all-cause and cause-specific death rates for black and white male prisoners ages 20−79 years. The findings suggest that black inmates were between “30 and 40 percent less likely” to die of certain causes than those who weren’t incarcerated.
According to Reuters, incarcerated black men “seemed to be especially protected against alcohol- and drug-related deaths, as well as lethal accidents and certain chronic diseases” and were less likely to die of diabetes, airway diseases, accidents, suicide and murder than men on the outside.
That story is now everywhere. There has not been a black blog which hasn’t covered the topic extensively. Naturally, the findings were viewed with both disappointment and welcome by bloggers and media outlets, including the NY Daily News, which couldn’t help but deliver this inflammatory lede: “Forget diet and exercise: A surprising new study says prison can actually extend the life-span of black men.”
The whole thing stinks to high heaven for me, particularly since the week before we had to hear about Michelle Bachmann endorsing a marriage pledge suggesting that “blacks were better off in slavery.” Call it poor timing or me just being overly sensitive, but both leave room for racist, stereotypical and irresponsible conclusions that blacks, in particular black men, are better off locked away or in subjugated positions than they are free. To that I say, no mas.
So I search for the original study thinking that there had to be a flaw in the methods or measurements. The study, entitled “All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality Among Black and White North Carolina State Prisoners, 1995–2005″ is available online for $31 bucks or through a subscription to Anals of Epidemiology Journal. Since I don’t have either, I checked out the original abstract, which has a slightly, but noticeably, different conclusion than the one drawn by Reuters and other media outlets.
According to the abstract, “The mortality of black prisoners was lower than that of black state residents for both traumatic and chronic causes of death. The mortality of white prisoners was lower than that of white state residents for accidents but GREATER for several chronic causes of death.” Furthermore, the study reveals that “the all-cause SMR [standard mortality rate] of white prisoners was 1.12 (95% confidence interval, 1.01−1.25) with fewer deaths than expected for accidents but more deaths than expected from viral hepatitis, liver disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and HIV.”
Wait, incarcerated white men are more likely to die of chronic diseases – including viral hepatitis, liver disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and HIV — in prison than they are on the outside? Surely it is equally shocking that in the same penal system which seems to be benefiting black men and their health so handsomely, has been a dismal failure for their white counterparts. So why was this part of the story left out? Moreover, why was it less headline-worthy?
In fact, in the second to last paragraph in the Reuters article was this line: “For white men, the overall death rate was slightly higher — by about 12 percent — than in the general population, with some of that attributed to higher rates of death from infection, including HIV and hepatitis. When the researchers broke prisoners up by age, death rates were only higher for white prisoners age 50 and older.” So does that mean that for white inmate under 50 their life expectancy in prison is lower than the general white male population? If so, wouldn’t that be aligned with the general conclusion of the findings for black men?
As we already know race is inflammatory and when it comes to statistics, it’s not the numbers, but how they are spun, which matters most. To draw a concrete conclusion we have to be able to consider all variables including the length and time of prison stay, the average age of the prisoner and the overall health condition of these inmates at the time of their admittance – just to name a few. And until that study is released in full, we are not going to know those answers, nor will we be able to compare those findings with similar or contrary studies.
In this instance, when we focus on race, without any review of other variables, we get provocative headlines like, “Black Men Survive Longer in Prison,” which only seem to fan the flames of one’s own prejudices. Even the study’s own authors aren’t ready to declare much, other than to say that, “Future studies should investigate the effect of prisoners’ preincarceration and in-prison morbidity, the prison environment, and prison health care on prisoners’ patterns of mortality.” This is not to say that the study might not be legitimate, but from the very narrow scope of how the findings are presented in the mainstream media, I can only surmise that the view we are currently being presented is skewed.