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Shocking New Report: Safest Place To Be a Black Man Is in Prison

A new study says the "big house" is the safest place to be a black man.

We’ve just learned that wealth disparities among whites, blacks and Latinos have reached critical mass. We’ve finally been able to acknowledge that the  war on drugs is a racially charged exercise that targets "minorities" at a rate of incarceration 13 times that of their white counterparts, often for minor drug offenses. And now that we’ve realized the majority of America’s poor are people of color, we have the Heritage Foundation telling us that  ownership of material goods means poor people aren’t actually as destitute as we thought. 

Now a new study from the  Annals of Epidemiology says a black man is half as likely to die in prison as he is outside of prison. The study focused on 100,000 men, aged 20 to 79 years, held in North Carolina prisons between the years of 1995 and 2005. Sixty percent of those in the study were black. Researchers found that less than 1 percent of the imprisoned men (both black and white) died in that time period and there was no difference in the death rates between black and white men in prison.

After collecting data from the prison sample, researchers compared it to the general population. When they separated the 1 percent who died in prison by race and compared each group, they found that the ratio of imprisoned black men to non-imprisoned black men contrasted far more sharply than the ratio of imprisoned white men to non-imprisoned white men. In other words, black men died at a higher rate than white men, unless they were in prison.

The causes of death examined were homicide, suicide, accidents, heart disease and cancer. There was a 0.52 percent less chance that a black man would die from traumatic and chronic incidents in prison than out. Black men in prison were far more likely to receive better health care, especially for chronic illnesses like diabetes, less likely to die from drug or alcohol-related incidents, and less likely to be victims of murder while in prison.

The study alerts us to two main dangers of being a black man in civil society. Exposure to violent crime and lack of access to sufficient health care are the biggest killers of black men in the United States. "What's very sad about this is that if we are able to all of a sudden equalize or diminish these health inequalities that you see by race inside a place like prison, it should also be that in places like a poor neighborhood we should be able to diminish these sort of inequities," says Evelyn Patterson, a professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee who commented on the study for Reuters Health. "If it can be done [in prison], then certainly it can happen outside of prison."

Far from being a critique of prison life, the study ends up shaming civilian society. In the wake of the recent hunger strikes that have highlighted the detestable conditions in which California's Pelican Bay prisoners and other prisoners nationwide live, the study suggests that prison apparently got one thing right in the larger scheme of things. Or rather, society has deteriorated so rapidly that a man would purposely get incarcerated to enjoy the relative luxury of free health care that the outside world would not afford him.

But let’s not let prisons off the hook. Corporations, capitalists, the invisible hand of the market (call it what you will) all have a vested interest in perpetuating studies like this, just as they do in keeping prisoners alive and well. Rania Khalek reported for AlterNet recently on the free prison labor system that’s been extremely profitable for corporations--a system that for many years has gone without critique. As long as society believes that black men are a danger to society and to themselves, almost any action toward them becomes justified.

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