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Dear Conference Participants:

Welcome to Exploring Health Reform and Criminal Justice: Rethinking the Connection between Jails and Community Health. On behalf of Community Oriented Correctional Health Services (COCHS), I want to extend my appreciation to you for your participation in this important policy discussion.

If we are to improve the health and safety of society’s most vulnerable members in any significant way, we must also address the health problems of the millions of Americans who interface with the criminal justice system. These two populations closely intertwine and even overlap; they tend to be members of the same communities and they share many of the same health challenges. In particular, the 9 million people booked in to the local and county jails each year remain strongly connected to their local communities because they are detained for very short periods before returning to those same communities. Their health problems directly affect both public health and public safety.

COCHS believes that health begins where people are – whether in their homes, in their communities or, for some, in jail. National health reform under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) presents an opportunity to re-examine how we connect the care provided in our nation’s jails back to the communities where we live, learn, work and play.

We need to ensure that the enormous public investment we are already making in correctional health directly benefits the public health and public safety of our communities. Currently, this investment is largely lost soon after people leave jail. A community-based approach that ensures connectivity of care after release can help protect society’s investment and improve public safety. If we do it right, as suggested by recent data you will hear more about today from Washington State, we will achieve cost savings in the process.

We have a steep hill to climb in order to integrate local correctional and community health, but the intersection of health reform and criminal justice presents a key opportunity for exploration, and holds the potential to spur important improvements in both public health and public safety.

We look forward to today’s conversation with all of you.

Steve Rosenberg
Community Oriented Correctional Health Services