Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2020

Degree Type

Capstone Project

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


Public Health

First Advisor

Dr. Shanta Dube

Second Advisor

Andromada Murden, MPH



The Association between Mental Illness and Incarceration Among the African American/Black Population in the United States


Brittany Oladipupo

April 27, 2020

INTRODUCTION: Intergenerational trauma in addition to other social determinants of health, place the Black population in the United States at risk for health disparities. Mental illness is also a contributing factor for health disparities in this population. Studies have shown there is a linkage between mental illness and incarceration especially among the Black population. Efforts are being placed to research and mitigate the rise of people with mental illnesses being incarcerated. However, there is a lack of information about the programs and policies that are in place to mitigate this observed problem, especially as it pertains to the U.S. Black population.

AIM: The purpose of the study was to evaluate existing policies and programs from states that have both high and low mental illness prevalence and incarceration rates among the Black population to understand what policies and practices may mitigate incarceration due to mental illness.

METHODS: Existing data from 2017 was obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, National Institute of Corrections, and National Institute of Mental Health to develop a database that included national and state by state estimates on demographic distribution, prevalence of mental illness and incarceration. Ranking was conducted to identify states with the highest prevalence of mental illness and incarceration and states with lowest prevalence of mental illness and incarceration, taking into consideration the population size and demographics of the state. The states were identified by comparing the national prevalence of mental illness which in 2017 was 18.29%. States were also identified based on low incarceration rates versus high incarceration rates among African American/Black compared to the federal incarceration rate which was 67,818 for African American/Black. All of these comparisons took into account the overall population of African American/Black population in 2017.

RESULTS: A total of six states were selected and evaluated on programs and policies. The states that had low mental illness prevalence and incarceration rates among the Black population had various policies and programs to decrease these rates and aid individuals in need. Common programs throughout these states were Crisis Intervention Training, Mental Health Courts, Mental Health First Aid, etc. to help de-escalate situations and provide help and treatment instead of incarcerating individuals due to their mental illnesses. However, states that had high mental illness prevalence and incarceration rates offered little to no mental health funding or services. Many of these states were also concentrated in the South where the Black people have endured discrimination and racism, lack of access to health care, and unfair treatment.

DISCUSSION: After a preliminary review of the various states and their behavioral health and corrections plans, the states that had low prevalence of mental illness and incarceration rates had programs and policies in place to improve mental health and decrease low level imprisonment rates.

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