Prison is often a death sentence?and not for the reasons you might think. Prisoners who have been recently released from jail have a much high death rate, especially in the first two weeks after release.

Researchers Ingrid Binswanger and Marc Stern analyzed data from over 30,000 inmates released from prison between 1999 and 2003 in Washington state. Of those individuals, almost 450 died during the next 2 years.

The death rates of the released prisoners were compared to the death rates of other Washington residents of the same age, gender, and race. The study found that newly released prisoners were over 12 times as likely to die in the two weeks following their release compared to other state residents in the same demographic groups. The death rate among former inmates was considerably higher than the death rate among inmates in prison. The leading causes of death were drug overdose, cardiovascular disease, homicide and suicide. Lung cancer represented half of all the cancer deaths. Younger individuals tended to die from overdose, homicide and suicide, whereas older individuals tended to die from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Binswanger says, “These results, along with findings from studies done in other countries, underscore the need for?programs to reduce the risk of death in former inmates.”

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