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High rate of incarcerated black men devastating to family health.

The overwhelmingly high rate of incarceration among black men in America is striking a blow not only to the health and well-being of those men but also to their families and communities, a new report finds.

By the end of June 2005, more than 2.1 million people were incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons. Almost 550,000 of them were black men between the ages of 20 and 39, or about 12 percent of black men in that age group, according to a new report from the Atlanta-based Community Voices: Healthcare for the Underserved and the National Center for Primary Care at the Morehouse School of Medicine. The incarceration rate for black males is up to seven times greater than for white males.

The report looked at social and federal policies that have led to "catastrophic rates of incarceration" among black men. Those policies include a shift from social welfare reform efforts to a war on drugs that focused on detention, arrest and incarceration.

While previous studies have outlined the disproportionate rates of incarceration for men of color, the Community Voices report also noted how conditions both within and outside of the corrections system impact incarcerated men and their families and communities. The report is an important wake-up call for those concerned with the public's health and well-being, according to APHA member Henrie Treadwell, PhD, director of Community Voices and associate director of development for primary care at the National Center for Primary Care.

"We do feel an urgent and pressing need to go further as the rise in incarceration of African-American men will be accompanied by a rise in the numbers of their children who will also find themselves in trouble first with the juvenile justice system and in significant numbers will find themselves in jail and then prison," Treadwell told The Nation's Health. "Even if jail and prison are not in their future, these children will be in more financially fragile situations within their family unit as their mothers will likely not be able to provide a fiscally secure home that has growth potential in terms of income and the building of wealth that is important to the movement away from poverty, even if this is just being able to pay rent, find a home to buy, and so forth."

The report pointed out that increasing rates of drug arrests have led to prison overcrowding and more inmates with chronic and infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis, which have overwhelmed the prison health system. Many inmates also go untreated for mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Upon release, black men often find themselves confronting "numerous obstacles" in their communities, including unemployment, limited housing, poor health and lack of access to health care. Perhaps one of the worst obstacles for an individual and his family is the stigma of being a black man with a criminal record, Treadwell said.

"We must understand the collateral damage that is being inflicted on innocent children, women, mothers and fathers," she said. "We must understand the virtual 'death' or 'forever jailbird' sentence that is imposed on individuals convicted of a felony conviction, particularly if their crime was non-violent and was perhaps self-medicating drug use."

The complete report, "Where Are the Men? The Impact of Incarceration and Re-entry on African-American Men and Their Children and Families," is available online from <www.communityvoices.org>.
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Title Annotation:The NATION: Health news at the national and federal levels
Author:Arias, Donya C.
Publication:The Nation's Health
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2007
Words:569
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