Healthcare in Jails

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 seldomly 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
Sheriff, supervisors should better define jail healthcare goals, study says
San Diego Union Tribune
Elected leaders in San Diego County should consider taking a more comprehensive approach to the health care provided to thousands of inmates housed in local jails, a new study commissioned by the county says. Dr. Homer Venters, the report’s co-author who runs the Community Oriented Correctional Health Services nonprofit consultancy, said the Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Bill Gore should redefine the level of care inmates receive in custody.
Bail suspended, remote hearings approved by California’s judicial leaders
San Francisoc Chronicle
California judicial leaders, to help courts cope with the coronavirus, voted Monday, April 6, 2020 to eliminate bail for defendants charged with misdemeanors and most nonviolent felonies and to allow pretrial proceedings to be conducted remotely. The temporary measures, which also included limits on evictions and home foreclosures, are intended “to preserve rights and ultimately preserve lives,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said at the teleconference of the state Judicial Council.
Why Jails Are So Important in the Fight Against Coronavirus
New York Times
Picture thousands of cruise ships jammed with guests but short on hand sanitizer, protective gear and medical care. Every week, a quarter of the passengers get off, replaced by new people with the potential to either infect or be infected. There is a place like that in your community: the county jail, with a local sheriff, in charge of preventing Covid-19 outbreaks but having limited supplies and no say who enters and leaves.


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

COCHS' Media Scan

COCHS sends out a weekly media scan of news stories covering healthcare delivery 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. You can access the current media scan articles and announcements here.