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Epidemic of mass incarceration” needs new approach (USA)

July 14, 2011

“Jails, and not hospitals, are the largest facilities housing psychiatric patients in the USA,” state researchers from the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, a collaboration of the Miriam Hospital and Brown University. An estimated 10 million Americans cycle in and out of correctional facilities each year, with 2.3 million people being incarcerated. A history of substance use and dependence, or mental illness, is seen in more than half of all inmates. In spite of that, these individuals are released back into the community without health insurance or access to specialized medical care and treatment. Dr. Josiah D. Rich, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at the Miriam Hospital provides a perspective on this crisis in an article that appeared in the June 2 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Rich observes that this “epidemic of mass incarceration” needs to be improved through better access to health care and includes redirecting people with serious mental illnesses away from the revolving door of the criminal justice system. In the first two weeks of inmate re-entry into the community, they are 129 times more likely to die from a drug overdose than the general public. This indicates that re-entry is a vulnerable time, especially for individuals with mental health conditions, as it is marked by increased drug use.

Creating partnerships between community health care providers and correctional facilities could enable and sustain the health gains made during incarceration, and improve the continuity of care for former inmates during the critical re-entry period. As well, physician awareness and involvement within this time would benefit those cycling through corrections, as well as the communities in which they return.

See the Medical News Today article, “New Approach Needed To Address National ‘Epidemic of Mass Incarceration’,” June 2, 2011, available atwww.medicalnewstoday.com.

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