Criminal legal contact and county-level health outcomes

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Craig, Chloe

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This paper investigates broader health outcomes to show how the criminal legal system, from prison incarceration to misdemeanors, contributes to health inequalities. Specifically, it seeks to understand how different forms of criminal legal contact, namely misdemeanors, jail incarceration, and prison incarceration, affect tuberculosis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea transmission rates. In order to investigate this, I used administrative data from Texas on county misdemeanors, jail, and prison incarceration and CDC data on county-level tuberculosis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea rates in the years 2012 and 2013. Results show a significant relationship between criminal legal contact and disease transmission. Findings also indicate mediating relationships with financial and demographic factors. Future research should investigate the ways in which systematic access or avoidance plays a role in the relationship between criminal legal contact, specifically low-level forms of it, and aggregate health outcomes. Overall, though, this paper demonstrates that we should be thinking about all forms of criminal legal contact as a factor when discussing public health matters, especially at a community level. Finally, when people have unequal exposure to institutions that fundamentally increase or decrease health, this has implications for policies that should protect the most vulnerable and resource-deprived. If systematic criminal legal contact is an indicator of healthcare vulnerability, policy changes should address the ways in which these institutions are tethered and functioning together within communities



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