ANN ARBOR, Mich., April 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. prison system punishes more than just its inmates -- it also takes a toll on the health of friends and loved ones left behind, researchers said.
University of Michigan researchers found that people with a family member or friend in prison or jail suffer worse physical and mental health and more stress and depressive symptoms than those without a loved one behind bars.
Lead researchers Daniel Kruger of the University of Michigan School of Public Health said the study results could help explain health disparities between minorities and whites.
"African-Americans are more likely to know someone in prison and to feel closer to the person incarcerated than whites do," Kruger said in a statement. "It's like a double whammy."
The study, published in the Progress in Community Health Partnerships, found 49 percent of African-Americans surveyed reported having a friend or relative in prison during the past five years, compared to 20 percent of whites.
Those who knew someone in prison had 40 percent more days in which poor physical health interfered with their usual activities, including work, and 54 percent more days in which poor mental or emotional health interfered with these activities.
The study consisted of 1,288 adults from Flint, Mich., with 67 percent of respondents white and 26 percent African-American.
More people live behind bars in the United States than in any other country, Kruger said.