BACKGROUND: Jail is frequently described as a "revolving door," which can be profoundly destabilizing to people moving in and out of the system. However, there is a dearth of research attempting to understand the impacts of the accumulation of incarceration events on women who use drugs. We examined the association of the frequency of jail incarceration with hardship, perceived health status, and unmet health care need among women who use drugs.
METHODS: Our community-based sample included women who use heroin, methamphetamine, crack cocaine, and/or powder cocaine (N = 624) in Oakland, California, from 2012 to 2014. Poisson regression models with robust variances were built to estimate adjusted prevalence ratios between the frequency of jail incarcerations and measures of hardship, perceived health, and unmet health care need, adjusting for a set of a priori specified covariates.
RESULTS: We observed associations between high levels of jail frequency and higher levels of homelessness (p = .024), feeling unsafe in their living situation (p = .011), stress (p = .047), fair to poor mental health (p = .034), unmet mental health care need (p = .037), and unmet physical health care need (p = .041). We did not observe an association between jail frequency and unmet subsistence needs score or fair to poor physical health.
CONCLUSIONS: We observed associations between higher levels of jail frequency and a higher prevalence of hardship, poor mental health, and unmet health care need. Our findings suggest areas for additional research to untangle the impacts of frequent incarceration on women's health and well-being.