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This article estimates the effects of imprisonment on infant mortality using data from the United States, 1990-2003. Results using state-level data show consistent effects of imprisonment rates on infant mortality rates and absolute black-white inequality in infant mortality rates. Estimates suggest that had the American imprisonment rate remained at the 1973 level—the year generally considered the beginning of the prison boom—the 2003 infant mortality rate would have been 7.8% lower, absolute black-white inequality in the infant mortality rate 14.8% lower. Results using micro-level data from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) show that recent parental incarceration elevates early infant mortality risk, that effects are concentrated in the postneonatal period, and that partner violence moderates these relationships. Importantly, results suggest that recent parental incarceration elevates the risk of early infant death by 29.6% for the average infant in the sample. Taken together, results show that imprisonment may have consequences for population health and inequality in population health and should be considered when assessing variation in health across nations, states, neighborhoods, and individuals.
Country of focus: United States.