Or so says a recent study.
Black men who are in prison are less likely to die in any given year than black men who are out of prison. In particular, they are less likely to die of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, alcohol- and drug-related causes, airway diseases, accidents, suicide, and murder. On the other hand, white men who are in prison are exactly as likely to die as white men who are out of prison.
Why? Some might be the result of confounding variables– you’re probably less likely to OD in prison, because it’s harder to get drugs in prison. Prisons might be safer than the outside world, so there’s a lower risk of accidents. Being watched by the guards could make it harder to commit murder. But if all these are true, one wonders why they don’t apply equally to white men.
My theory is that it is mostly the corrosive effects of racism and poverty, and the way that racism perpetrates poverty in the black community. In prison, black men get adequate health care, paid for by the government. Outside of prison, they mostly do not. That means that they can’t afford preventative care, like cancer screenings, and care for chronic illnesses like diabetes. Regular health care is expensive, but avoiding it leads to a far higher rate of dying. Similarly, we must point to the lack of access to mental health care for many black men. Prison mental health care is inadequate, but at least it’s there. Suicide and substance abuse are a classic sign that a lot of people are not getting the health care they need.
We already know that men tend not to seek out health care, because getting help isn’t masculine and because men can’t admit to being in pain. Not having the money for it only compounds the problem.
Also important is the risk of violence. As a general rule, white people trust the police. (Assuming, of course, they aren’t poor, homeless, trans, mentally ill, a drug user, a sex worker, a leftist who goes to protests a lot, or another one of the many many groups that have a hell of a good reason to distrust the cops.) For that reason, privileged neighborhoods are very safe; if I, a privileged person, get assaulted, I can call the fucking police and trust that they will probably catch the perpetrator and, if not, will at least consider me a “real” victim. If your experience of cops is that they harass you, don’t take your concerns seriously, occasionally arrest you, and are generally between useless and dangerous to deal with, are you going to call the cops? Of course not. And that means that neighborhoods that marginalized people live in are dangerous places to live.
I assure you, if the cops treated a poor homeless heroin-addicted sex worker of color with several mental illnesses the same way they treat me, who is the most privileged privilege-person in all of Privilegetown, suddenly we’d discover that the neighborhoods that marginalized people live in are a hell of a lot safer. It’s not like people are violent because of Mysterious Marginalized-Person Reasons. They’re violent as a logical response to the circumstances that they live in.
So yeah. That’s my prescription. Universal health care and competent policing. What do you bet that’ll happen the Fifth of Never?