New Study Reveals that Prison Releasees Often Return to Medically Underserved Communities

New Study Reveals that Prison Releasees Often Return to Medically Underserved Communities

A new collaborative research study by FSU College of Criminology & Criminal Justice Professors Joseph A. Schwartz, Sonja E. Siennick, Young-An Kim, and FSU College of Medicine Professor Tyra Dark reveals that the communities with a greater rate of prison returnees were more likely to be communities that do not have sufficient medical services to meet demand.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health (JECH), examines the communities releasees return to when they leave prison to determine if they have the medical resources needed to maintain the physical health of those who reside within such communities.

The researchers reviewed data from various sources, including information on over 256,000 prison releases from the Florida Department of Corrections from 2008-2017.

The research showed that people leaving prison are more likely to return to communities with inadequate medical services. The team also found that communities with more black returnees were even more likely to be medically underserved. Schwartz added, "While we found significant differences between black and white returning individuals, we did not see as much difference between Latino and white individuals. That surprised us. We expected to see a much more significant difference than we did."

One factor contributing to potentially decreasing health disparities between Latinos and whites may be increased access to healthcare. Some studies have indicated that implementing the Affordable Care Act has improved access for Latinos. However, improved access is only universal across some Latino subgroups, demonstrating the importance of examining individual groups commonly classified as Latinos.

Schwartz added, "Previous research has also found that improved access is not universal across Latino subgroups. We cannot consider Latinos or Hispanics a monolithic racial and ethnic group. There are individuals from Central American, Cuba, Mexico, and South America, all with different backgrounds that make them unique. Unfortunately, our data does not allow us to get into that level of granularity. Future research aimed at better disentangling the more nuanced intersections between race and ethnicity and how such differences may contribute to differential access to healthcare among specific Latino subgroups and observed health disparities more broadly would be beneficial.”

The team is planning a follow-up project to examine the extent to which the trends observed in the current study carry over to the years during and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study results point to the importance of connecting returnees to appropriate providers, particularly for individuals with unique healthcare needs. The authors suggest that lawmakers consider incarceration return rates when determining funding for community-based services. Increased availability of such services would facilitate more successful reentry outcomes, including healthcare access, and provide much-needed resources offering broader community-wide benefits.