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Mass incarceration may worsen gun violence in Black communities, study finds

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Firearm-related injury remains a significant burden in the U.S. with more than 45,000 people dying from these injuries in 2020. Suicides continue to account for the majority of all gun deaths. The number of homicides due to gun violence decreased between 1990 and 2010, but the last decade has seen an uptick.

Homicides now make up 45% of all gun-related deaths, and Black and other minorities are overrepresented among firearm homicide victims. Moreover, there has been a stark increase in incarcerated populations in the U.S since the 1980s largely due to differential drug sentencing, of which members of minority groups are also overrepresented.

In a new study, researchers from Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine found that higher incarceration rates for Black Americans significantly increased the risk of gun violence in those same communities. This was not true for white or Hispanic Americans where there was no significant impact of incarceration on rates of firearm violence.

The researchers believe that the social disorganization from and a higher percentage of single-parent households among Black families may help perpetuate firearm homicides in this population.

"Among Americans born in the 1990s, 29% of Black individuals can expect to serve a compared to 16% of Hispanic individuals and 5% of whites," explains corresponding author Michael Poulson, MD, MPH, clinical instructor of surgery at the school.

"This racially disparate mass incarceration preferentially targets Black men, particularly those with less than a high school degree. Our findings reinforce these statistics by showing higher rates of Black incarceration in the city of Chicago when compared to white and Hispanic counterparts."

In an effort to understand the mediating effect of social vulnerability and on the relationship between incarceration and firearm homicides, the researchers performed a reviewing all firearm victims in Chicago, from 2001–2019.

According to the researchers, the findings are interesting because previous studies, which did not use granular data, showed that incarceration reduces violence because it takes crime offenders off the street. "Our study challenges this assumption by showing that mass incarceration may actually be more detrimental to communities by taking caregivers out of families and disrupting , thereby perpetuating violence," says Poulson, who is also a general surgery resident at Boston Medical Center.

The researchers believe this study ultimately shows that mass incarceration may not have the benefit of reducing crime and may actually worsen crime and violence in already vulnerable communities. "Systemic changes in the criminal justice system should be discussed to provide equitable relief to communities that have been hardest hit by mass incarceration and firearm for decades," said Poulson.

These findings appear online in the journal JAMA Surgery.

More information: The Carceral State, Social Disorganization, and Firearm Homicides in Chicago, JAMA Surgery (2024). DOI: 10.1001/jamasurg.2024.1596. … cle-abstract/2819796

Journal information: JAMA Surgery
Citation: Mass incarceration may worsen gun violence in Black communities, study finds (2024, June 5) retrieved 16 July 2024 from
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