Seth J. Prins is Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University. His work concerns the collateral public health consequences of mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline, and how the division and structure of labor influence mental health.

Research Programs

Decarceral public health

Mass criminalization and mass incarceration, which disproportionately target poor people and people of color, tear through every aspect of social life, from public health and education to housing, labor markets, the opioid epidemic, and the climate emergency. These policies destroy communities and the networks of care and support required to lead productive, healthy lives, without offering long-term economic benefit, security, or safety.

My research integrates advanced epidemiologic methods with sociological, critical criminological, and abolitionist theory to document and explain the collateral public health consequences of mass criminalization and incarceration. I am the principal investigator of a National Institute on Drug Abuse K01 grant to study the role of adolescent substance use as determinant and consequence of the school-to- prison pipeline. Other projects include research on the theoretical and methodological assumptions underlying risk assessment in the criminal legal system, and the impact of jail incarceration rates on county mortality.

Decarceral public health
Relational social class and health

How does capitalism make us anxious and depressed? My work explores how the social division and structure of labor influences population mental health. I draw on social theory to better operationalize social factors as dynamic relational processes rather than individual attributes.

Social epidemiology’s traditional measures of socioeconomic status, like income and education, are the downstream outcomes of dynamic social processes, and do not shed light on the mechanisms generating social stratification in the first place. My work looks upstream to such mechanisms, specifically economic exploitation and domination.

My research finds that unconcealed exploitation (not being paid for productive hours) is associated with mental illness; that people in contradictory class locations suffer higher rates of depression and anxiety; and that occupations with lower autonomy, authority, and expertise, and higher automation, are associated with mental illness and substance use.

Relational social class and health