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International Journal of Health Services


Geographical inequalities in life and death are among the world's most pronounced in the United States. However, the driving forces behind this macroscopic variation in population health outcomes remain surprisingly understudied, both empirically and theoretically. The present article steps into this breach by assessing a number of theoretically informed hypotheses surrounding the underlying causes of such spatial heterogeneity. Above and beyond a range of usual suspects, such as poverty, unemployment, and ethno-racial disparities, we find that a hitherto neglected explanans is prison incarceration. In particular, through the use of previously unavailable county-level panel data and a compound instrumentation technique suited to isolating exogenous treatment variation, high imprisonment rates are shown to substantially increase the population-wide risk of premature death. Our findings contribute to the political economy of population health by relating the rise of the carceral state to the amplification of geographically anchored unequal life chances.


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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.