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Incarceration Exposure and Epigenetic Aging in Neighborhood Context

Research has implicated incarceration exposure as a social determinant of health, with recent work suggesting incarceration may trigger a stress response that accelerates physiological deterioration. The objective of the current study is to assess whether neighborhood stressors intensify the health consequences of incarceration exposure.

We test whether two neighborhood context measures – socioeconomic disadvantage and perceived crime – moderate the association between incarceration exposure and a measure of accelerated epigenetic aging based on the GrimAge index. Our sample included 408 African American young adults from the Family and Community Health study.

Results from regression analyses with inverse probability of treatment weights suggest that incarceration exposure and neighborhood disadvantage are independently associated with accelerated biological aging. The results also show that the impact of incarceration exposure on accelerated aging is amplified for individuals in neighborhoods with higher levels of perceived crime.

These findings indicate that the neighborhood contexts where formerly incarcerated individuals return have a substantial impact on their pace of biological aging. Policies aimed at reducing ambient stressors after release may promote healthy aging among formerly incarcerated African American adults.