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 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
COVID-19 in U.S. State and Federal Prisons
National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice
Using data from a variety of sources, this report contributes to the understanding of COVID-19 outbreaks within state and federal prisons by addressing: 1) How do overall COVID-19 case and mortality rates within state and federal prisons compare with rates for the general population, both before and after adjusting for the age, race/ethnicity, and sex of people in prison? 2) How do COVID-19 infections vary by the type and location of a prison?
Returning from prison and jail is hard during normal times — it’s even more difficult during COVID-19
Prison Policy Initiative
The very same obstacles that make it hard for people released from prison to succeed — homelessness, a lack of transportation, barriers to healthcare, and more — also make it harder to stay safe from the coronavirus. Poor people returning from prison typically do not have health insurance, since Medicaid’s “inmate exclusion policy” means that states terminate or suspend coverage when someone goes to prison, and not all states re-enroll people upon release.
When Torture Is a Health Precaution
Jewish Currents
Department of Corrections err on the side of caution when it comes to quarantining incarcerated individuals who may have had contact with a COVID-19 positive individual. Health experts warn that the use of punitive medical isolation can deter prisoners from reporting symptoms, and that solitary confinement has been shown to weaken the immune system, making its use an obstacle to protecting health.


( 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.