During their first two weeks out of prison, ex-convicts face nearly 13 times greater risk of death than the general population, says a study of more than 30,000 former inmates published today and reported by the Los Angeles Times. The leading cause was overdose of illegal narcotics. “If people have been avoiding drug use and they return to their usual doses after release, they will have lost tolerance,” said lead researcher Dr. Ingrid Binswanger of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
The study, in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that the criminal justice system is doing an inadequate job of easing the transition to society. It “highlights the critical period immediately following release, which corrections policy has not yet really focused on,” said University of California-Irvine criminologist Joan Petersilia. More than 650,000 inmates are released each year. The research tracked 30,237 inmates in Washington state released from July 1999 through December 2003. The former prisoners were tracked for an average of 1.9 years after being released.