There is a tremendous amount of ethical concern surrounding the notion of providing healthcare to those that are incarcerated. Health care providers must constantly negotiate with prison officials in order to provide inmates with necessary and decent health care. The quality of this healthcare, however, has deteriorated in recent years as the prison population has nearly quadrupled in the last 25 years. Laws meant to combat the abundance of drugs within communities, have riddled the prison system with several individuals that are forced to serve extremely long sentences for a non-crime related offense. As numbers within prison system increased, the need for quality healthcare for each inmate increased exponentially.
Due to these outdated drug laws, there are more people serving time in prison than ever before, thus requiring more time, energy, and money for each individual prisoner. Regarding healthcare, the prison system is not able to provide sufficient, quality healthcare to the immense prison population that has been established today. The way I see it there are two primary ways to provide quality healthcare to those imprisoned: to increase healthcare funding for those imprisoned or to reprimand mandatory minimum drug laws to reduce the number of inmates within these systems.
In this blog post I will be discussing the types of healthcare issues that are common among inmates, the cost of healthcare for inmates, and the necessary restructuring of mandatory minimum drug laws in order to reduce the prison population, which allows prisoners to be granted more individualized attention to their health care needs. While these people are seen as criminals, they are entitled to certain constitutional rights and I believe that healthcare is one of them.
When we talk about healthcare issues in prison populations, they are not exactly the same kinds of issues found in the rest of society. These prisoners fall victim to violent assault, rape, and outbreak of highly infectious diseases that are much more common in correctional facilities than in the general population.These health and medial problems vary by nature of disease, age, gender, and ethnicity of the prisoner. A few of these communicable diseases among prison inmates include TB, HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis C. TB (tuberculosis) in particular, is known to pose a higher threat to the general population than other diseases and the unregulated, untreated treatment of it can cause detrimental issues for both parts of society.
These diseases are generally due to unfavorable prison conditions such as overcrowding, poor ventilation, and inadequate/late health care that can easily hasten the spread of disease throughout the prison populations. While many prison systems administer diseases examinations to inmates as they are registered into the system or while they are incarcerated, they are not doing it to the extent or as frequently as they should.
The Cost of Healthcare
Typically you would think that if the government has decided to convict you and place you in jail, then they would have to be responsible for your well-being.
Well… yes and no.
Correctional facilities are required to provide health services for those that are incarcerated, but that doesn’t mean that the healthcare provided is going to be free of charge. In most states, these prisoners are charged co-payments ranging from a few dollars to as much as $100 for health care services. This often deters or completely eliminates the prisoner’s desire to take part in these health services because they simply do not have the money for it.
Think about it… according to a recent study, an estimated 80% of prisoners are poor and medical co-payments generally come out of their commissary accounts, which are often funded by families and earnings from prison labor. If prisoners were to allocate all of their funds toward this medical care, they would not have the funds for soap, food, underwear, etc. Unfortunately, this can lead to the rapid spread of communal diseases throughout prison populations, so it is in the best interest of the prison officials to provide the necessary healthcare to these inmates.
Restructuring Mandatory Minimum Drug Laws
Let’s face it. Mandatory minimums have a devastating impact on exponentially increasing prison populations. While they are a relatively good way of reducing crime rates and keeping criminals off the streets, they can cause problematic effects for the crowding and degradation of prison systems. If these laws are meant to rehabilitate and correct a criminal’s behavior, they are not doing a great job at it. A criminal defense attorney, Sen. Justice Wayne claims, “Going to jail simply doesn’t help them. Having a five-year mandatory minimum doesn’t help them”. The recidivism rate for drug offenders is approximately 76%, which means that dealers will return to dealing 3/4 of time after their release.
In order to restructure these mandatory minimum laws, I believe that more power should be given to judges to dictate what sentence should be given to an offender in these situation. While it is the judge’s responsibility to uphold and defend the written law, I believe that in this case, it is important to give judges the ability to decide and to “judge” the appropriate sentence for offenders. While judges may continue to sentence offenders to the usual mandatory minimum sentence, this can be seen as a stepping stone for the possible reduction of inmates in prison systems in the near future. The main purpose of this restructuring would be to reduce the prison population so that healthcare would be easier to distribute and individualize for each inmate. Another option would be to drastically increase funding for healthcare in prison systems, but come on… do you really think that would happen any time soon?
In essence, if the criminal justice system has the power to convict and imprison citizens, it has the responsibility to provide and care for them as well. While these criminals have violated the law and have created a disturbance in society, they are still granted certain constitutional rights and I believe that health care should be one of them.
Until next time,