Many who commit crimes are unable to sustain healthy lives. They often come from poor neighborhoods and dysfunctional families and lack formal education, job opportunities, and quality health care. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as of 2007 there were more than 7.3 million people in correctional systems (jails, prisons, probation, parole and community corrections). This population has a high prevalence of chronic medical and mental health issues, high rates of infections and sexually transmitted diseases, and substantial substance abuse disorders.
When I interview offenders, most of them say that they want help with their health problems, but have had limited or no access to health care throughout their lives. Time spent incarcerated may be the only time these men and women have access to adequate care.
The majority of the diseases and disorders found in correctional populations are contracted or developed in the community as a result of high-risk behaviors: substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, violence, smoking and poor diet. This offender population with infectious or chronic diseases moves from the community, through correctional systems, and back to the community. Offenders in our correctional system today have been given the chance to improve their health through quality health care and to learn what they can do to support their continued wellness both "inside" and when they reenter the community.
Correctional health care professionals and public health agencies have a responsibility to reach this population. Together, in partnership, we have a responsibility to society and to offenders to continue developing and evaluating efficient, effective, and cost-conscience methods of delivering valid, evidence-based treatment and programs. We also have a legal, ethical and moral obligation to return offenders to the community in a reasonable state of health to facilitate their successful reentry.
In state correctional systems, at least 95 percent of all inmates will be released to the community--and more than 12 million people pass through our nation's jails annually. While incarcerated, inmates receive health care that requires continuity in community health systems. …