Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Reblog] Imprisonment and public health

From the   post at thefeverblog

Mass incarceration in the United States goes beyond the logistical issues of overcrowded prisons. A shallow mindset wouldn’t identify the connection between mass incarceration and public health, but it’s prevalent and significance is being recognized. An article published in the New York Times briefly discusses the impact mass incarceration has on public health. It touches on a report published by the Vera Institute of Justice, which is an organization that focuses on making justice systems fairer through research and innovation. Most people in prisons come from impoverished communities, and therefore have low health-status.  Specifically, people in prisons have higher rates of chronic disease, mental illness, and substance abuse.

But that’s really the obvious part of the mass incarceration-public health relationship. Overcrowding exacerbates health problems, especially communicable diseases such as flu and other viral infections. In a previous post, I shared how social reform in Russia led to mass incarceration and in turn one of the largest outbreaks of tuberculosis in history. Mental illness  and substance abuse are major problems in jails, and the problem isn’t being addressed adequately. Although over 45% of incarcerated people have a mental illness and over 68% have substance abuse issues, only 15% receive proper treatment.

But that’s not even the  real problem. Our justice system is focused on penalizing, so vulnerable people coming out of prison are unable to receive any assistance because their actions have removed their eligibility. On first glance, the conservative argument would be that felons shouldn’t be privy to housing, medical, and financial assistance. But the whole picture has to be taken into consideration. Families can be easily torn apart by a family member being incarcerated, especially when parents are taken away from children.

Suicides and violence are also common in prisons. In the Vera Institute study it was found that 1/3 of deaths in prisons are due to suicide. Everything considered, mass incarceration is an epidemic and it’s public health ramifications are significant. The justice system in the United States needs to work with public health agencies to improve services, education, and awareness in prisons. The system needs to consider cases of penalizing on an individual by individual basis when evaluating eligibility for financial, housing, and medical assistance.

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January 21, 2015 - Posted by | health care, Public Health | , , ,

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