According to the United State Department of Justice, more than 2 million adults were incarcerated at the end of 2015. For these millions of people, time spent in jail or prison is disruptive to many different parts of life, including relationships, finances, employment and health care. While people who are incarcerated are under the care of health care professionals, they may struggle accessing health care once they are released.
Though most incarceration systems provide some kind of health care for their populations, disruption in care can have negative effects. The large number of people incarcerated in the United States means that many people are affected by a lack of continuous health care, as pointed out by Edward Mulvey, PhD, professor of psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
“Health care works best when it’s coordinated and continuous,” said Dr. Mulvey. “It’s silly to think that we’re going to incarcerate people and then bring them back to their communities and think that somehow their health care is going to be continuous or of a quality that’s going to really address chronic problems effectively. And, the flip side is that when some people are incarcerated, they may receive some of the first health care they’ve gotten in many years. How is this supposed to continue?”
Disruption of health care is especially a problem for people who already have a higher risk for certain diseases. African Americans and Latinos have higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and other conditions. The United States Department of Justice reports that in state prisons, African Americans are incarcerated at 5.1 times the rates of white people. Latinos are incarcerated at 1.4 times the rate of whites. People who already have a higher risk for some diseases and are incarcerated at higher rates may have a difficult time accessing continuous health care, including mental health care.