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Does in-prison physical and mental health impact recidivism?

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Date Published

The goal of this study was to determine whether in-prison physical and mental health, as well as changes to an individual's health upon release from prison, are related to the likelihood of recidivating. 


Incarceration is definitively linked to poor health, and upon release from prison, many individuals have difficulty in maintaining good health. Given the complexity of the reentry process, one's health status, both in and out of prison, likely influences additional aspects of reentry, such as abstaining from crime or adhering to parole terms. The current study used the Serious and Violent Reentry Initiative (SVORI) data, a multi-state sample of formerly incarcerated males who were followed from prison to release into the community and interviewed about a number of post-prison release issues, including health. The study used hierarchical logistic and multinomial regressions in which survey waves were nested within people to assess whether in-prison physical and mental health and post-release changes to health were associated with recidivism in two ways, i.e., general re-incarceration and re-incarceration due to either a technical violation of parole or a new conviction. With right-censoring due to recidivism or “failure,” the final sample size was 2,180 person-periods (i.e., waves) nested within 871 respondents. The analysis found that better physical health, both in-prison and changes in health post-release, was related to a higher likelihood of recidivating. Better mental health, both in-prison and changes to mental health post-release, were related to a decrease in the likelihood of recidivating. Individuals with poor mental health in prison who made significant improvements after release had the largest reduction in their odds of recidivating. Finally, the combination of better mental health in prison and increases in mental health post-release were associated with reductions in the likelihood of re-offending for both technical violations and new convictions. In sum, in-prison health continued to influence individuals after prison and was associated with their odds of recidivating, thus contributing to the churning of individuals through the prison system. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2020