NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


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 31/2 times more likely than other state residents and nearly four times more likely than current inmates to die.

"The differences are more striking for women than they are for men," said lead researcher Dr. Ingrid Binswanger, a public health researcher and assistant professor at University of Colorado at Denver.

  • While 87 percent of ex-prisoners in the study were men, the risk of death for the women was 51/2 times higher than for other women in the state.
  • Experts said the rest of the country probably has a similar, or even worse, situation than Washington state, although the specific drugs causing overdoses might vary by region.

Binswanger, who did her research with colleagues while at the University of Washington, noted that 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.

Source: Linda A. Johnson, "First two weeks out of prison found to be a deadly period," Associated Press/Lexington Herald-Leader, January 11, 2007; Ingrid A. Binswanger et al., "Release from Prison -- A High Risk of Death for Former Inmates," New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 356, Number 2, January 11, 2007.

For abstract:


Browse more articles on Health Issues