Jail Healthcare

Jails are local correctional institutions that are on the front-line of healthcare in the criminal justice system. They process 13 million admissions a year.  Jail inmates are disproportionately male, people of color, and poor.

Many of these individuals experience serious health problems. Half of jail inmates and prisoners have a chronic health condition. Nearly two thirds of jail inmates meet clinical criteria for substance abuse or dependence, and more than 40 percent have a history of a mental health problem.

Public safety stakeholders are not unaware of this trend. Sheriffs and wardens throughout the country frequently comment about how their institutions have become de facto mental health institutions and how jails are poorly equipped to serve in that role.

Even though jails are not considered healthcare delivery sites, considerable resources are dedicated to medical care in these settings, including intake assessments, sick call, chronic medical and mental health care, emergency responses.

Whether a justice involved person receives treatment in a jail or the community, there is little coordination between jail and community providers. As a result, treatments are interrupted impacting the health of the individual and potentially the health of the community.

COCHS' Mission

Since its beginning Community Oriented Correctional Health Services (COCHS) has worked to bridge the gap between correctional and community providers. COCHS' major emphasis has been to re-frame jail healthcare not as a place separate from the rest of the community but as another healthcare delivery site within the community.

This perspective has many advantages. Coordination of care between community and correctional providers helps reduce interruption of treatments and the negative impact these interruptions can pose to individual health, community health, and community resources.

As part of its mission, COCHS provides technical assistance to assist communities in finding ways to improve healthcare in local correctional facilities as well as providing expertise on health information technology to create connectivity and data sharing. COCHS has also been the leader in identifying policies at the federal, state, and local levels that help local jurisdictions address the healthcare needs of their community members who are temporarily displaced within correctional institutions.

Stakeholders whether they be criminal justice professionals, policy makers, or health care providers seldom interact. COCHS has convened multiple conferences and working groups so these groups can exchange ideas and find solutions to the health crises that lead many people to cycle through jails.

What's New

Stories and news items of note impacting healthcare within corrections
Executive Order on Reforming Our Incarceration System to Eliminate the Use of Privately Operated Criminal Detention Facilities
White House
From President Joe Biden's executive order: More than two million people are currently incarcerated in the United States, including a disproportionate number of people of color. To decrease incarceration levels, we must reduce profit-based incentives to incarcerate by phasing out the Federal Government’s reliance on privately operated criminal detention facilities.
Protect communities by vaccinating inmates
Chicago Sun Times
Synthia Peterson, an RN for Wellpath, writes: I am one of tens of thousands correctional nurses nationwide working behind the walls in some of the largest congregate settings in the U.S. There is an urgent need to include workplaces like mine in planning and execution of vaccine distribution. Unlike long-term care facilities, jails and prisons have an ever changing population.
They Called for Help. They’d Always Regret It
The Atlantic
Two families called 911 to get help for their sons. They didn’t know that they’d be thrusting them into a complex and often brutal system. Death rates—especially suicide rates—in American jails continue to rise. Most people sucked into the system are at the mercy of forces outside their control, and diversion opportunities remain rare.


( What's New postings are updated weekly --previous postings are archived. )

COCHS' Weekly Update

COCHS sends out a weekly update of news stories covering healthcare within correctional institutions. These stories range from stories about local correctional institutions all the way to national initiatives. Occasionally, we will post announcements about COCHS or one of our partner organizations.