Where the rich write the laws, it becomes a crime to be poor.

An article in Public Health Perspectives argues that mass incarceration in the U.S. is creating new health care challenges. Whereas prisoners are guaranteed health care, former prisoners are not. Ex-prisoners with health or mental issues leave prison are often unable to find work. They leave prison and plunge into the moral vacuum of our private health care system. Now that our nation is the prison capital of the world this problem affects an ever larger percentage of our population.

 We have a problem, you know, and it’s only getting worse. It doesn’t strike us equally – it’s a problem that mostly affects young men, minorities, and people without high school diplomas. It’s worse in the US than anywhere else in the world – and five times as bad in the state of Louisiana than it is in Iran. Its survivors usually don’t make good advocates – not while they fight for employment, hold onto their families, and, in some states, lose the right to vote. The problem of mass incarceration is a problem some don’t want to address, because the felon class represents those who must have known they would trade for their crimes a piece of their lives. But the health risk of prison doesn’t end when their sentences do. In some cases, it has only just begun – and not just for them. Jason Silverstein

What does it say about our nation that prison is now a safer place statistically for black males than trying to live in a unjust culture without a safety net? Are poor people from minority populations born to be cheap labor for the rich? Why else do we let the working poor go without health care?

It is one of the great ironies of American society: prisoners are constitutionally guaranteed health care, but former prisoners are not. The prison health paradox is one dramatic way to think about the health disparities of impoverished minorities in the United States. In 2010, Evelyn Patterson found that “prison appears to be a healthier place than the typical environment of the nonincarcerated black male population.” Indeed, during incarceration, black-white mortality differences vanish. But once released, we see something else entirely. The mortality rate skyrockets. The deadliest time is the first two weeks after release, when former inmates have a 12.7 times higher risk of death than the general population and a 129 times higher risk of drug overdose. Jason Silverstein

I repeat, in a nation where the rich write the laws, it becomes a crime to be poor.