The Incarceration and Public Health Action Network (IPHAN) exists to build a national effort to examine mass incarceration through a public health lens and to infuse carceral system reform issues into the fabric of public health education. IPHAN seeks to mobilize public health institutions, methodologies, and interventions to address the persistent social, economic, health, and human rights problems that accompany this system of punishment.
UNDERSTANDING CRIMINAL JUSTICE AS PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE
In addition to addressing the health needs of people who have been affected by the carceral system (including those who are incarcerated, those under “supervision” as a part of parole and probation, and their family members and friends), allows us to understand the implications of mass incarceration for population health.
The rapid rise in incarceration from the 1970s to 2014, has increased the US prison population by 408%.1 This carceral rate has had broad effects, impacting those imprisoned as well as their families and communities. The United States holds less than 5% of the world’s population, but 20% of the world’s prisoners.2
The reach of the carceral system is expansive, and it is important to note that the number of people who are affected is much broader than those behind bars—those affected also include those who are supervised through parole and probation (over 4.5 million adults in 20153), as well as people living in communities disproportionately affected by incarceration, which tend to be the poorest communities predominantly comprised of those who are not white.
It is also important to understand that many of those engaged with the carceral system are deeply impacted by trauma, substance use, and mental health issues that are not addressed before or during incarceration, nor upon reentry to society. For example:
Exposure to physical and/or sexual trauma is associated with increased likelihood of criminal justice contact.4
Over 90% of incarcerated individuals have experienced at least one traumatic event.5
Research suggests that about one-third of incarcerated individuals have met criteria for PTSD at some point in their lives.6
Substance use risks associated with incarceration include decreased life expectancy and increased disparities in overall population health, (e.g., higher rates of AIDS, hepatitis C and serious mental illness than the general population, often with co-occurring substance-use disorders).
5 Jaggi, L.J., et al. (2016). "The Relationship between Trauma, Arrest, and Incarceration History Among Black Americans: Findings from the National Survey of American Life." Society and Mental Health, 6(3), 187-206. doi: 10.1177/2156869316641730
6 Komarovskaya I, Booker Loper A, Warren J, Jackson S. (2011). Exploring gender differences in trauma exposure and the emergence of symptoms of PTSD among incarcerated men and women. Journal Of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 22(3), 395-410. doi: 10.1080/14789949.2011.572989
7 Mueser, K. T., & Lu, W. (2012). Traumatic stress in special populations. The Oxford Handbook of Traumatic Stress Disorders. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195399066.013.0010