Increased access to health care while incarcerated may explain why African-American men are half as likely to die at some point inside compared with their counterparts enjoying freedom on the outside, according to a new study published in the Annals of Epidemiology and reported by Reuters Health.

For the study, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) reviewed the prison and state health records of about 100,000 North Carolina inmates, ages 20 through 79, incarcerated between 1995 and 2005. When scientists compared inmates’ prison-stay mortality rates and causes of death, they found no differences between black and white inmates. But when researchers compared the death rates of incarcerated black men with their free counterparts findings showed that free black men had a higher death rate than those behind bars.

“For some populations, being in prison likely provides benefits in regards to access to health care and life expectancy,” suggested David Rosen, PhD, the study’s author from UNC.

The study results emphasized the need to provide adequate health care access outside of prison walls. What’s more, Rosen said, there are also many possible negative effects of imprisonment—such as broken relationships and loss of employment opportunities—that influence prisoners’ lives [and long-term health], which are not reflected in the study findings.

To read about why some black men resist going to the doctor, click here.