The association of neighborhood-level mass incarceration and psychological distress: An analysis of the Life-course Influences on Fetal Environment (LIFE) study

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2021-05

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The Ohio State University

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Background: Psychological distress is an important health problem because of the associated difficulties in social and occupational functioning. Psychological distress, measured by the K-6 Kessler Scale, may be higher among people who live in areas most affected by mass incarceration due to the increased stress that is associated with an overpoliced, under-resourced neighborhood. We examined the relationship between zip-code level incarceration rates and psychological distress in African American women from a Detroit metropolitan area sample. Methods: We used data from the Life-course Influences on Fetal Environment (LIFE) study, which surveyed a sample of African American women who had just given birth. We dichotomized the scores on the K-6 assessment into mild-to-moderate distress (scores from 6 to 12) and serious psychological distress (13 to 30). Log binomial regression was used to estimate the prevalence ratio and 95% confidence interval for the association between zip-code level incarceration rate and level of psychological distress. Results: The mean age of the total sample was approximately 27 years old. The median yearly family income was between 30,000 U.S. dollars - 34,999 U.S. dollars and the median years of education was 14 years. The median K6 score was 13, which corresponds with the cut-off for serious psychological distress. Psychological distress, as measured by the K-6 Scale, was not associated with zip code-level incarceration rate among the sample in the analysis. Conclusion: The findings do not support an association between zip code prison admission rates and serious psychological distress scores. Further research may be needed to determine the confounding effect of personal/family experiences of incarceration. Another suggestion for additional research includes using a sample with representative rates of diagnosed mental illness.

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psychological distress, mass incarceration, LIFE study, health disparities

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