As part of a seminar series from the Maryland Population Research Center (MPRC), Evelyn Patterson, a sociology professor from Vanderbilt University, discussed incarceration’s assault on life expectancies at this university’s Morrill Hall on Nov. 23.

“The topic of this seminar is a part of the MPRC’s academic and population research that the University of Maryland does every year,” said Sangeetha Madhavan, associate director of the MPRC.

MPRC invited expert Evelyn Patterson, who shared her research and findings. Her discussion gave students a better understanding of incarceration and its effects on decreasing life expectancies.

“Every minority who is incarcerated loses two years of their life expectancy for each year served in prison,” Patterson said. “That’s scary, very scary.”

She talked about three types of death that occur in prisons: civil, physical and social death.

Individuals who are or were incarcerated experience civil death for carrying the mark of a criminal record.

“Civil death is the removal of a stock of privileges, responsibilities and rights regarding political and social governance,” Patterson said. “Having a driver’s license is a civil privilege, serving in the jury is a civil responsibility and voting is a civil right. Can you imagine losing all that?”

Brittany Dernberger, a sociology doctoral student, found the aspect of civil death intriguing.

“Although I study these kinds of situations, I wasn’t completely aware that there were different perspectives of civil death,” she said.  “It helped me understand more about incarceration among minorities and how it can affect their privileges coming back to society.”

Being incarcerated is experiencing physical death since jail time can take years off an individual’s life, even if the time served is for a minor crime, Patterson said.

She discussed how there are individuals serving time when they probably should not and how this can be a result of the where the person lives.

“If you come from a lower-income neighborhood and commit a crime, the jury that will be deciding your fate will most likely not be from your area,” Patterson said.

“If any individual committed the crimes that Martha Stewart did, they would be incarcerated for a long time,” Patterson said. “The difference is, Martha Stewart has the capital to powerful attorneys and counselors. Most incarcerated individuals, especially minorities, do not have the financial status for that.”

Rashawn Ray, a University of Maryland assistant sociology professor, found the aspect of social death in relevance to black males intriguing.

“The main argument that black males outside of prison have a higher social experience that leads to over-policing, more discrimination and less than optimal healthcare is mindful,” he said.

Patterson explained the experience of social death that the carceral institution creates.

“Incarcerated individuals have to abide by very strict rules and are treated lesser than human,” Patterson said. “When they’re released, they wonder, ‘Who can I trust?’”

Individuals who are or were incarcerated experience social death as they tend to lose social ties with people, she said.

The greater the time spent as an incarcerated person, the greater the negative effect on life expectancy.

“While the effect is weaker or perhaps drawn out as formerly incarcerated individuals, the effects on one’s life expectancy are nevertheless deleterious,” Patterson said.

She closed the seminar with a thought about social perspectives and its ties with humanity.
“Generally, people always look at the individual and neglect to think about humanity,” Patterson said. “We have to look at our social society to see these injustices in social institutions.”

Feature Photo Credit: Dr. Evelyn Patterson, an assistant professor of sociology at Vanderbilt College, spoke to students in Morrill Hall about the social and civil effects of incarceration on inmates. This talk was part of the Seminar Series of visiting scholars. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)

Jennifer Pham is a junior multiplatform journalism major and may be reached at jenaipham@gmail.com

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