Losing Years Doing Time: Incarceration Exposure and Accelerated Biological Aging among African American Adults

Berg, M.T.; Rogers, E.M.; Lei, M.K.; Simons, R.L.


Research suggests that incarceration exposure increases the prevalence of morbidity and premature mortality. This work is only beginning to examine whether the stressors of the incarceration experience become biologically embedded in ways that affect physiological deterioration. Using data from a longitudinal sample of 410 African American adults in the Family and Community Health Study and an epigenetic index of aging, this study tests the extent to which incarceration accelerates epigenetic aging and whether experiences with violence moderate this association. Results from models that adjust for selection effects suggest that incarceration exposure predicted accelerated aging, leaving formerly incarcerated African American individuals biologically older than their calendar age. Direct experiences with violence also exacerbated the effects of incarceration. These findings suggest that incarceration possibly triggers a stress response that affects a biological signature of physiological deterioration.