What are the health risks of Black Men in America? I was first introduced to issues such as: the historical medical mistreatment of Black people, their mistrust of doctors, and racial politics and differences in health sciences from a lecture at Emory called ‘Race for Cures’ by Ruha Benjamin, a distinguished professor from Princeton University. African American men are more likely to have heart disease, diabetes, PTSD, and African Americans die on average a decade earlier than African American women and white people of both genders (Kalzen 225). Later that year at Emory, my colleague Deandre Miles presented research that argued that there is segregation stress syndrome, a type of PTSD in which some people in black communities suffer as a result of racist violence and mistreatment from times of post-antebellum, Jim crow, and beyond (Does being Black Put Your Health at Risk, 2015). Mass incarceration and the historical fear of seeking medical help in hospitals are two of the most undeniable, overlooked explanations of health risks in the black community that stood out to me the most. It is essential that we find solutions beyond legislation and policy to begin to address these health concerns, and give the Black citizens their rights to be healthy citizens.
Issues Then & Now:
The history of mistreatment of black people by doctors and the way America’s incarceration and release system are constructed both contribute to the reasons why such extreme health disparities and risks exist in the Black population. The Faulker Law Review is a good resource that highlights how despite the growing concern of prisons’ health conditions in the 1960’s, no action was taken in the Supreme Court until 1976 (Wallace, 265). Meanwhile, Black inmates were recruited as volunteers for health experiments such as the Shigella study in Maryland from 1967-1973 (Noculum Size in Shigellosis and Implications for Expected Mode of Transmission, 1989)In this study, the researchers and doctors visited prisons and fed the inmates stomach strains of Shigella from Japanese and Guatemalan patients (Noculum Size in Shigellosis and Implications for Expected Mode of Transmission, 1989). Prisoners were finally guaranteed the right to health care in 1988 through the case Estelle v. Gamble, but the extent of care was never decided (Wallace, 2012). Other popular and unethical cases of medical misconduct include: the Tuskegee syphilis study where volunteers were told they were being treated for syphilis when, in fact, doctors were just observing the stages and the HeLa cell line taken from Henrietta Lacks without her consent (Skloot).
Today, inmates are still mistreated, neglected, and sometimes unnecessarily die in prison hospitals (as displayed in cases such as Plata vs. Schwarzenegger) because inmates still have a lack of vanishing health care after release, inadequate treatment, lack of access to doctors, and distrust of values of health officials (Kalzen, 233). To add to these issues, physicians are easily deterred from working in prison hospitals because of low salaries, low job status, and safety concerns. This contributes to result low quality or insufficient supply of physicians in prisons, overcrowding, and lack of funding for health care in prisons (Wallace, 217).
When scholars, advocates, and politicians try to spread awareness on this issue, many fall into the trap of conducting observational studies in which the researchers observe both the response and explanatory variable without assigning a ‘treatment’; we simply look at the correlations that take place. While this is great information to have, this method will not solve the issue at hand. Court cases such as McClesky vs. Kemp made clear that statistical evidence of racial bias cannot be charged as discriminatory in our court system (Alexander, 190). International institutions such as the United Nations and World Health Organizations have continuously criticized the “unfair and unjust” acts of the US for stripping inmates of their rights, access to food and financial assistance, and ability to get and access to resources that keep them healthy (Kalzen, 226). However, it is hard for these collective security institutions to enforce their judgements and deter America from violating prisoner’s rights because there is no means of international enforcement. I am interested in ways to reform American Jail systems so that people’s rights and health are not constantly being debated or endangered.
What can be done? Some solutions are presented in the Faulkner Law Review such as: encourage physicians to help with prisons, give the doctors steadier pay and flexible hours, attract new, fresh graduate doctors, and to break negative stigmas of being a prison doctor (Wallace, 273). Wallace’s article also suggests privatizing prison health care because, in theory, this could help alleviate financial barriers. However, many would argue that there is lack of incentive to provide quality health care since prisons are so stigmatized (Wallace 280).
Many health effects come from the aftermath of incarceration, and families are affected as well. Many prisoners leave prison and do not have a plan to re-apply for Medicaid. Pre-release planning programs can alleviate the danger of losing health care right after being released from prison. Community outreach programs such as . The Dare to be King (created by David Miller) can also be used as standard preventative and rehabilitative measures to fight health risks in the black community. Families are greatly affected by mass incarceration and liminal institutions, which make it harder for families to thrive after there is a charge on a family member’s record. Dare to be King has programs that strengthen son and father relationships and provide juvenile support by recognizing health risks that result from mass incarceration. In conclusion, data and evidence suggests that the strongest solutions for improving healthcare in the black community are initiatives that focus on pre-release planning, rehabilitation, and prevention.