The Mortality Penalty of Incarceration

Evidence from a Population-based Case-control Study of Working-age Males




William Alex Pridemore

Journal of Health and Social Behavior

June 2014






There is a growing body of research on the effects of incarceration on health, though there are few studies in the sociological literature of the association between incarceration and premature mortality. This study examined the risk of male premature mortality associated with incarceration. Data came from the Izhevsk (Russia) Family Study, a large-scale population-based case-control design. Cases (n = 1,750) were male deaths aged 25 to 54 in Izhevsk between October 2003 and October 2005. Controls (n = 1,750) were selected at random from a city population register. The key independent variable was lifetime prevalence of incarceration. I used logistic regression to estimate mortality odds ratios, controlling for age, hazardous drinking, smoking status, marital status, and education. Seventeen percent of cases and 5 percent of controls had been incarcerated. Men who had been incarcerated were more than twice as likely as those who had not to experience premature mortality (odds ratio = 2.2, 95 percent confidence interval: 1.6–3.0). Relative to cases with no prior incarceration, cases who had been incarcerated were more likely to die from infectious diseases, respiratory diseases, non–alcohol-related accidental poisonings, and homicide. Taken together with other recent research, these results from a rigorous case-control design reveal not only that incarceration has durable effects on illness, but that its consequences extend to a greater risk of early death. I draw on the sociology of health literature on exposure, stress, and social integration to speculate about the reasons for this mortality penalty of incarceration.








Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee