EB: Where my mind goes immediately, considering these health care barriers among all the barriers that this population faces, is priorities. It must be hard to prioritize your health while worrying about finding a job or a place to live. These are fundamental necessities. We know that it’s usually very challenging for individuals with criminal records to rebuild their lives. So, how do you impress upon someone in that position how important it is to connect to a doctor when it can be a time-consuming process riddled with obstacles and she or he may be more worried about how to find an income or a home?
VM: That’s a tough question, Ms. Bush. And I think that it’s even bigger than just impressing that importance on the individual. I would also like to put the burden of answering that question on us, as community members and professionals who work to address the needs of this population. How do we prioritize the health of our previously incarcerated community members when the resources that we have are limited and there may be more immediate issues to deal with, like employment or housing? I think the answer to that question begins to shake loose when we consider the statistic that Dr. Mulvey shares with us in the overview: Around 20 percent of the prison population has a serious mental disorder at any given time. This population is at greater risk for certain illnesses and so their health needs are high. They must be connected to care. Further, if proper mental health treatment is not received after incarceration, individuals may find themselves repeating behaviors that got them in trouble in the first place. In this way, not receiving health care in the right time contributes to the cycle of incarceration. Yes, the barriers are difficult. Yes, there are many of them. But they all contribute to people returning to incarceration. We cannot ignore that.
EB: You are absolutely right, Vianca. This issue has many layers and, at the heart of it, the problem is a lack of resources and infrastructure to manage the needs of this population. Dr. Mulvey mentions that community reintegration programs can help with issues like this. I agree. We need more support in place to help our previously incarcerated community members. That’s an institutional problem that must be solved on the government level. So, as community members and citizens, it’s important for us to pay attention to the restorative justice movement and vote accordingly.
VM: I second that suggestion, Ms. Bush! I’d also like to mention that the Health Education Office at the Urban League is a resource for anyone looking for help navigating their care or securing health resources. Our services are free. We are open five days a week.
EB: Our HEO is a great resource. I encourage folks to check it out.
VM: Thank you for your time, Ms. Bush. I am grateful for the opportunity to chat with you about this topic. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on next month’s topic—e-cigarettes.
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