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Health Issues More Pronounced In Prisons, States Not Prepared

State prisons are continuing to ignore the health care needs of people in their care, says the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) in a new report, The study examines the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Survey of Prison Inmates, breaking down the prevalence of several chronic conditions in the 1,566 state prisons. The report also reviews the medical histories of people behind bars. People in state prisons suffer disproportionately from asthma, hepatitis C, HIV and substance abuse disorders. Many inmates also suffer from illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, which can be exacerbated behind bars. Half of state prisoners lacked health insurance at the time of the arrest that led to their incarceration. Those with insurance disproportionately received Medicaid, a sign that poverty, exclusion from the health care system, and incarceration overlap significantly.


The report says that 43 percent of state prisoners report one or more diagnosed mental health conditions. Only 26 percent received professional help for their mental health since entering prison. Many people who go to prison die prematurely. In the first two weeks after release, individuals face a risk of death more than 12 times higher than the general population. In a separate report, the Sentencing Project says the prison system is largely unprepared to handle the medical, social, physical, and mental health needs for older people. Nearly half of prisons lack an established plan for the care of elderly inmates. Warnings about the crushing costs of incarcerating older people have gone almost entirely unheeded amid what sociologist Christopher Seeds calls a transformation of life without parole “from a rare sanction and marginal practice of last resort into a routine punishment in the United States” over four decades. In a survey of 20 states, almost half of people serving life without parole are at least 50 years old and one in four is at least 60 . In ten years, even if no additional LWOP sentences were added in these states, 30,000 people now serving LWOP will be 50 or older. Half of aging people serving LWOP are Black. The Sentencing Project calls for allowing "immediate sentence review with presumption of release for people who are 50 and older and have served 10 years of their sentence."