Student researchers Lisa Lares and Nipher Malika
By School of Behavioral Health - June 11, 2020

Post-incarceration mental health in older adults study: an underexplored other health disparity

More than ever, long-term incarcerated older adults are being released into their communities. Many find themselves ill-prepared to function in a society that has changed significantly during their incarceration. As a result, this growing population continues to gain attention as many poorly reintegrate due to their complex physical health, mental health, and social needs. Recent data suggest that this group of formerly incarcerated older adults (FIOA) is uniquely motived to make their reintegration successful. However, little is documented to further inform and validate best practices to help them succeed in this.

  • Older adults, post-incarceration, face a unique set of challenges in comparison to their younger counterparts. After spending much of their adult years behind bars with many having lost their ties to their families, they must try to reintegrate into a changed society with advanced technology as the 'new normal.' Complicating this enormous task are their own mental and physical health vulnerabilities, and the need to gain employment, a challenge for any older adult.
  • Coupled with these challenges, these older adults struggle with the double stigma of a "record" and ageism.
  • While there is a somewhat robust literature on prisoners’ mental health and some literature about general post-incarceration needs and recidivism, very little is known about post-release complexities for this growing population of FIOA.
  • Understanding FIOA needs will lead to better reintegration and less reoffending, resulting in safer communities and reducing the economic burden of warehousing older adult prisoner. Gaining knowledge to most effectively address their complex needs in cost effective ways will benefit both the FIOA and society at large.
  • As a first step, we conducted a qualitative needs assessment and found that the needs of formerly incarcerated adults are complex, and many find themselves in an environment that does not help them with the required adjustments. Many lack ties to the community, having lost contact with friends and family who might assist them at this crucial time. As a result, many older adults released from parole seriously consider reoffending as an option. The paper concludes with a discussion of best practice suggestions such as formal RI programs to assist older adults post-incarceration in successfully transitioning back into society and policy changes to address the needs of this vulnerable population. This study is being published as: Lares LA, Montgomery, SB. "Psychosocial Needs of Released Long-Term Incarcerated Older Adults" (CJR-OA-19-09-0085.R2), accepted for publication in Criminal Justice Review.
  • Based on a qualitative needs assessment, we conducted a voluntary anonymous survey with 171 men post-parole or -probation to explore their mental health and psychosocial needs and barriers to successful reintegration. Results confirmed our qualitative assessment and are in preparation for publication.

This study is being conducted by Lisa Lares, a graduating Social Policy and Social Research PhD student in the Department of Social Work and Social Ecology, School of Behavioral Health, Loma Linda University. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Cal State Long Beach University, and a contracted lecturer for the field of gerontology at Loma Linda University. She holds a BA in Child Development, a BS in Family Life Education, and an MS in Gerontology. Her research interests lie in applying a life span perspective to optimizing services in different populations, including issues related to racial and ethnic differences in aging, healthcare access, and social integration among formerly incarcerated older adults.

Prostate cancer health disparity research

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death among men in the United States. Although prostate cancer affects all men regardless of racial and ethnic group, a disproportionate burden is experienced by black men who have a higher incidence and mortality rate. Black men, compared to other ethnic groups, are frequently diagnosed with a higher grade and stage, at a younger age and tend to have more treatment resistance tumors. Genetic research indicates that only 5 to 10 percent of prostate cancer cases are believed to be primarily caused by high-risk inherited genetic factors or prostate cancer susceptibility genes and thus, this current study researches the psychosocial and environmental factors in relation to prostate cancer.

Specifically, this study explores the social determinants of health as measured by demographics, acculturation, adverse childhood experiences, complementary and alternative medicine use, financial stressors, medical mistrust, perceived discrimination, prostate cancer knowledge, social support and perceived stress as they relate to prostate cancer screening intentions in African immigrant men as compared to African American and Caribbean men. We hope that the results of this study unveil key social determinants associated with prostate cancer screening among black men in order to develop and implement preventative programs to promote men’s health and prostate cancer health.

This research is led by Nipher Malika, a third-year Social Policy and Social Research PhD student in the Department of Social Work and Social Ecology, School of Behavioral Health, Loma Linda University. Her interests lie in addressing health disparities and hard-to-access underserved populations.