Prison stigma leads to poor health for African American men

September 01, 2004

The Justice Policy Institute (2002) estimated that between 1980 and 2000, three times as many African American men went to prison than to universities and colleges. A study published in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship supports that following release from prison, men in this demographic group need steady jobs and stable homes to prevent imminent health problems, yet find it extremely difficult to do so.

In this study, a group of formerly incarcerated African American men were interviewed over a three-month period to find out about their experiences after being released. Data reflected a decline in the types of jobs available to them in comparison to opportunities before incarceration. These men were limited in how they were able to conduct a job search and those who did find success in work were only able to do so "self-employed." An inability to find affordable housing was also identified as an obstacle while transitioning from prison to society.

Further, results showed that homelessness and unemployment prevented these African American men from maintaining healthy lifestyles and that in general, ethnic and minority groups suffer disproportionately from poor health. Lack of employment limits access to health care services and insurance, further keeping these groups from maintaining their health at a level and convenience available to others who do have jobs and stable homes.

"Careful thought about the effects of the complex issues of joblessness and homelessness on formerly incarcerated African American men is required to determine how best to support African American families and communities as we work to strengthen our collective health and resilience as these men return home," states author Cheryl L. Cooke. Nearly 8 out of every 10 African American men will be incarcerated at some time in their lives which can affect families through generations, meaning that their children will also be more likely to serve time in jail. [1]
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About the Author
Cheryl L. Cooke, PhD, MN, RN is currently developing two studies, both focused on the health status of women whose male partners are in prison, as part of a program of research that explores the impact of incarceration on the African American community. Her previous experience with the prison population has included providing nurse care for patients housed on the jail wards in county hospitals. Dr. Cooke received her PhD from the University of Washington in 2002 and her Master of Nursing in 1999. She can be reached for interviews and questions at

About the Journal of Nursing Scholarship
Blackwell Publishing publishes the Journal of Nursing Scholarship in partnership with the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. This widely read and respected journal features peer-reviewed, thought-provoking articles representing research by some of the world's leading nurse researchers. Reaching health professionals, faculty and students in 90 countries, the Journal of Nursing Scholarship is focused on health of people throughout the world. It is the official journal of Sigma Theta Tau International and it reflects the society's dedication to providing the tools necessary to improve nursing care around the world.

About Blackwell Publishing
Blackwell Publishing is the world's leading, independent society publisher with offices in the US, UK, Japan, Denmark, Australia, and Germany. Blackwell publishes over 700 journals in partnership with more than 550 academic and professional societies.

1. Lotke, E. (1998). Hobbling a generation: Young African American men in Washington, DC's criminal justice system - five years later. Crime and Delinquency, 44 (3), 355-366.

Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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