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Survival is not a given for ex-cons

Published January 11, 2007


Prison life may be dangerous, but getting out can be deadly, too. Newly released inmates were almost 13 times more likely than the general public to die during their first two weeks of freedom, a study in Washington state found.

Drug overdoses were the top killer, with ex-convicts 129 times more likely to die that way within two weeks of their release than the general population.

That cause of death was followed by heart disease, homicide and suicide, according to the study, the first major look at the issue.

Over an average of two years, the study found the ex-inmates were 3 1/2 times more likely than other state residents and nearly four times more likely than current inmates to die.

While 87 percent of ex-prisoners in the study were men, the risk of death for the women was 5 1/2 times higher than for other women in the state.

Experts said the rest of the country likely has a similar, or even worse, situation than Washington state, although the specific drugs causing overdoses might vary by region.

The study by lead researcher Ingrid Binswanger, a public health researcher and assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, was reported in today's New England Journal of Medicine. She conducted her research with colleagues while at the University of Washington.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation of Plainsboro, N.J.

It included 26,270 men and 3,967 women released from Washington state prisons from mid 1999 through 2003 and used two national databases to track their deaths. It compared them with deaths among other state residents of similar age, race and gender. Over that time, 443 inmates died, 38 in the first two weeks; an average of three deaths occurred among the same number of state residents over two weeks.

Binswanger noted studies in Europe and Australia found similarly high death rates, particularly right after release from prison.

The new findings show the need for more programs to help ex-inmates with a history of addiction and poor health cope with the stress of finding housing, a job, health care and other necessities and stay clean, said Christy Visher of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute.




[Last modified January 11, 2007, 01:26:58]

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