The Effects of Incarceration on Psychiatric Disorders and Disability

Jason Schnittker, University of Pennsylvania
Michael Massoglia, Pennsylvania State University
Christopher Uggen, University of Minnesota

Although incarceration is correlated with many psychiatric disorders, a putative causal relationship is contaminated by assorted influences, including the early onset of most disorders, psychiatric comorbidity, and the criminalization of substance use. Using the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, this study examines the relationship after statistically adjusting for multidimensional selection processes. The analysis reveals a positive association between incarceration and both current and lifetime psychiatric disorders, while helping to unpack its underpinnings. Results indicate that (i) some of the most common disorders found among former inmates emerge well before first incarceration; (ii) incarceration effects dissipate over time, having a smaller impact on current disorders than lifetime disorders; and, (iii) substance disorders anticipate both other psychiatric disorders and incarceration. Yet the results also reveal robust effects of incarceration on mood disorders, which in turn explain much of the disability former inmates experience following release.

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Presented in Session 86: Demography of Punishment