Public Health Professor To Examine Impact of Exposure to the Carceral System and Hyper-policing

Portrait of Dr. Rahwa Haile

SUNY Old Westbury, a Long Island college committed to empowering students to build a more just and sustainable world, has announced the start of a project exploring the impact of hyper-policing and the carceral system on health inequities faced by Black Brooklynites. Dr. Rahwa Haile, associate professor of public health at the College, is part of a multidisciplinary team of three investigators examining this issue.

Selected as part of the Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the project is being conducted by a team of three Black women: Dr. Haile is joined by University of Wisconsin-Madison Assistant Professor of Social Work Dr. Tawandra Rowell-Cunsolo, and Brooklyn Movement Center Deputy Director Anthonine Pierre. Designed for teams of two researchers and one community leader, the RWJF Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program supports teams as they work with communities to design and conduct rigorous research to explore critical issues, then apply the findings to advance health and equity.

“Black people in the United States have suffered health inequities for centuries, dating back to 1619,” said Dr. Haile, “These inequities persist nationally, and in New York City.  Data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene show that Black residents of New York City have lives four years shorter than whites and experience infant mortality at three times the rate of whites. Data also indicate that Black New York City residents are 1.5 times more likely to have, 2 times more likely to be hospitalized by, and two times more likely to have died due to covid-19, as compared to whites. These profound health inequities are rooted in structural inequities that have impacted Black communities in the United States for centuries, and that continue to ravage bodies, lives, families and communities.”

Although the focus of the study is Brooklyn, Dr. Haile notes that these inequities are also present on Long Island. “Black Long Island residents in Nassau County are twice as likely and in Suffolk county they are 1.6 times more likely to die prematurely than whites,” said Dr. Haile. “Similarly, Nassau County Black residents experience infant mortality at 3.48 times the rate of whites, and Suffolk County Black residents experience infant mortality at 1.6 times the rate of whites.

The investigators will examine the potential impact of exposure to hyper-policing and the carceral system as types of structurally-rooted stressors that may be erode health. They plan to conduct in-depth interviews with community residents in order to better understand their experiences with hyper-policing and the carceral system, as well as to empirically examine whether these types of exposures are associated with health.

“Communities cannot organize around what we do not know. By reaching a better understanding of the impact of hyper-policing and the carceral system, we can engage in more meaningful policy conversations,” says Anthonine Pierre. “We are honored RWJF supports our efforts to promote health equity and to develop inclusive tools to create health equity.”

About SUNY Old Westbury

SUNY Old Westbury is a selective public liberal arts college with more than 5,000 students studying in more than 45 undergraduate degree opportunities in its liberal arts and professional programs and 19 graduate programs in business, data analytics, education, liberal studies, and mental health counseling.  On the College’s 604-acre campus, students are challenged to take ownership of their futures through an environment that demands academic excellence, fosters intercultural understanding, and endeavors to stimulate a passion for learning and a commitment to building a more just and sustainable world.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health. At RWJF, we are working alongside others to build a national Culture of Health. Our goal is to help raise the health of everyone in the United States to the level that a great nation deserves, by placing well-being at the center of every aspect of life. Meet the 2020 Cohort of 2020 Interdisciplinary Research Leaders.

About The Researchers

  • Dr. Rahwa Haile is a social epidemiologist and associate professor of Public Health at SUNY Old Westbury. Her research focuses on understanding the structural mechanisms that produce health inequities.
  • Anthonine Pierre is the deputy director of Brooklyn Movement Center, working to implement the Center’s organizing strategy and its capacity to nurture social and political leadership in Central Brooklyn. She directs the organization’s efforts in base-building and leadership development and leads the Center’s issue campaigns on police accountability and anti-street harassment.
  • Dr. Tawandra Rowell-Cunsolo is an assistant professor in the Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research broadly examines the intersection of the carceral system and health outcomes.