Friday, June 24, 2011

Life Imitates Art without the Happy Ending

James Verone gave a bank teller a note that that claimed he had a gun and demanded $1.  He took the dollar and then sat down on a sofa and waited for the police according to a USA Today article.  Vernone claims "that he has no money but suffers from a growth on his chest and ruptured discs."

According to the article Vernone "hopes for a three-year sentence, so he would be eligible for Social Security by the time he gets out."  Unfortunately,
[h]is plan may not work entirely as he had hoped. Because he demanded only $1 and did not use a weapon, Verone was charged not with bank robbery, but with larceny, which carries a much shorter sentence.
Although Vernone claims to be "a logical-type person," I originally thought him a bit of a romantic.  O. Henry wrote classic short story "The Cop and the Anthem" which features a protagonist who seeks to go to jail for the winter.  The ironically named Soapy tries to steal a free meal from a restaurant, attempts pick up a young single woman with lecherous intent, and throws a brick through a plate class window.  In each case he avoids arrest.  Finally, he stops outside a church to listen to hymns being sung, vows to turn his life around,  and gets arrested for loitering.  He gets his three month sentence.

It turns out that Verone is indeed a logical thinker.  Huffington Post cites a Slate article that
that health care in prison is at best as good as a low-income health plan and at worst, almost nonexistent.
From Slate:
The majority of ailments are treated on-site, but inmates who are gravely ill can be taken to the nearest hospital. Sick prisoners must make a nominal co-payment for each visit to the jailhouse doctor—usually $5 or so, taken from an hourly wage that typically runs between 19 cents and 40 cents an hour. Costs above that are covered by the state.
If that fact weren't bad enough, reports that black males have a higher life expectancy in prison than they do outside prison.
Being in prison could save your life - depending on your racial background. A group of epidemiologists studying patterns of death among prisoners have discovered that black men in prison die at much lower rates than black men outside.
Annalee Newitz, the articles author uses two studies to back up this assertion.  First,
Public health professor Anne Spaulding and colleagues gathered these statistics in part to understand what happens to people after they leave prison. Often ex-prisoners have a much greater likelihood of dying in the months after their release. What they discovered was that comparing survival rates in and outside prison revealed racial differences that were stark. Writing in the American Journal of Epidemiology, they assert:
Based on the relatively poor health of incarcerated populations and the high mortality rates seen after release, one might predict that inmates would also suffer from high mortality while incarcerated. A recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report, however, showed that while incarcerated, inmates aged 15–64 years experience 19% lower mortality than comparably aged controls in the general population; among blacks, mortality for prisoners is 43% lower than age-adjusted mortality for the general black population.
Later, Newitz writes,
A study published last year in the journal Demography backed up this finding. Sociologist Evelyn J. Patterson studied US Bureau of Justice statistics and census data and concluded:
White male prisoners had higher death rates than white males who were not in prison. Black male prisoners, however, consistently exhibited lower death rates than black male nonprisoners did. Additionally, the findings indicate that while the relative difference in mortality levels of white and black males was quite high outside of prison, it essentially disappeared in prison. Notably, removing deaths caused by firearms and motor vehicles in the nonprison population accounted for some of the mortality differential between black prisoners and nonprisoners. The death rates of the other groups analyzed suggest that prison is an unhealthy environment; yet, prison appears to be a healthier place than the typical environment of the nonincarcerated black male population. These findings suggest that firearms and motor vehicle accidents do not sufficiently explain the higher death rates of black males, and they indicate that a lack of basic healthcare may be implicated in the death rates of black males not incarcerated.
In other words, it's not just car accidents and shootings that are to blame for these racial discrepancies. It may be that black men survive better in prison because they get better health care behind bars than they do in their communities.
Verone's logic and these studies show the need for better care for the poor, especially when unemployment hovers near or above 9%.  I fear that some will call for reducing the quality of health care in prisons rather than increasing the quality of care for those outside prison.

1 comment:

yanktonirishred said...

Perhaps one of the saddest summaries of American life I have ever read when you can get better health care while incarcerated then you can while free.


Land of the free indeed.