Insights speaker series talk explores long-term healthcare impact of US criminal justice system

October 25, 2023

Contact: Jon Meerdink ([email protected])

ANN ARBOR — The University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research continued its Insights speaker series on (date) with a lecture from Mike Mueller-Smith on how mass incarceration affects the long-term well-being of the aging United States population.

Mueller-Smith, an assistant professor in the University of Michigan’s Department of Economics and a faculty associate at ISR’s Population Studies Center, demonstrated in his talk that the criminal justice system has implications for older Americans that are not always well-understood. Most people who come into contact with the criminal justice system usually do so well before the age of 30; according to Mueller-Smith, about 92% of people who fall into that category first make contact with the system before reaching that age.

“So, it’s a little bit odd to be thinking about elderly or aging populations in the justice system. This isn’t a typical combination of populations and policies that we consider in research,” he said.

That approach is a mistake according to Mueller-Smith. Millions of people in the U.S. have criminal records, due in part to a result of policy changes in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of those people caught up in the early movement of the mass incarceration era are now reaching retirement age, leading to conversations about how to care for people facing economic challenges associated with their past.

“We know from the work that’s been done on criminal records and incarceration that this can lead individuals to face economic challenges,” said Mueller-Smith. “This may make it more difficult to find and keep legal work. They may not qualify for things like social security benefits. They might not have pensions. They might not have social safety nets to rely on. Our previous approaches to supporting this aging population might not work going forward.”

The full video of Mueller-Smith’s presentation is available below. For more information on the Insights speaker series, click here.

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