Prisoners Health Care

We have recently been speaking about access to health information and the responsibility of doctors to tell patients what they believe is important and what will cause unnecessary harm to the patient.
During this conversation I have been questioning the judgment call of doctors for certain patients. For example, if a doctor is forced to treat a patient they strongly dislike – will they give more or less care to the patient? Furthermore, would they unknowingly withhold information simply because they do not like the patient. Of course, we would like to assume that all patient treatment would be exactly the same but this of course is not true. Beyond the doctors’ control, the care will shift slightly for a patient they favor over a patient they dislike.


Although a bit of a leap, I began thinking about healthcare and health information in prisons in the United States. As we stress the importance of doctors’ gauge on a patients, health, needs and information; what about patients who doctors may have prematurely judged?


As of 2012, there were 1,517, 013 prisoners in the United States. Prisoners have the right to adequate healthcare under the eighth amendment. This means that prisoners should not be subject to cruel and unusual punishment. Clearly this is not the case. Many claims have been main regarding the “deprivation of basic elements of adequate medical treatment”, “deliberate indifference” and most importantly “abuse of discretion”.


Of the current inmates approximately 800,000 suffered from a chronic condition that needs regular medical attention such as diabetes, previous heart attacks and hypertension.  Furthermore the treatment rate for mental health ailments tripled for individuals after incarceration. With the Americans prison members older than 55 growing faster than the population at large, may prisons must be prepared to provide them healthcare. This will cost approximately nine times more than healthcare for younger inmates. As the prison population rises, hospitals for prisons are becoming overbooked such as in California, which currently has three hospitals. Prisons must then contract to private hospitals for inpatient care that can cost approximately $850,000 per year for one inmate.


It is a raising concern for many that healthcare costs in prisons are continually raising. As the U.S. healthcare suffers from severe budget crisis, prisoners are being moved to hospitals and additional forms of treatment. Doctors treating prisoners are often cited for ignoring patient needs or abusing the right of doctor discretion, a topic we have discussed at length.


Knowing this information, the current U.S. healthcare system and the large cost of incarceration it is crazy not to ensure that inmates get the basic care that they deserve. But is it really possible to ensure that they will be receiving ethical care? If prisoners are placed in private hospitals, will that not factor into treatment? Will they be given complete treatment, or treated like a general patient? Is it unethical to do so? How can we ensure that a doctor will be using sound discretion which treating these patients?



Gardner, Amanda. “Many in U.S. Prisons Lack Good Healthcare.” HealthDay. Jan. 16 2009. Web


Klein, Stuart. “Prinsoners’ Rights to Physical and Mental Health Care: A Modern Expansion of the Eight Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause.” Fordham Urban Law Journal. 1978. Print


Williams, Timothy. “Number of Older Inmates Grows, Stress Prisons.” New York Times. Jan. 26, 2012. Web.



7 thoughts on “Prisoners Health Care

  1. I value your concern in your blog about ethical care for inmates. I really think that the prisoners have to face both medical arrogance and ignorance while in jails. Many of the prisoners become target of scientific research as was seen in Dr. Chester Southam’s cancer research in which he injected cancer cells into prisoner bodies to see if they were contagious. A similar kind of incident was recently revealed in the news that between 2006-2010, about 148 female were sterilized without consent in the California prisons Apparently, sterilization on the basis of feeblemindedness was considered legal after the US Supreme case Buck v. Bell in which the court set a legal standard that states may sterilize prisoners. The court argued that feeblemindedness is hereditary, and that those in prison or in mental institutions should be stopped from passing these flaws to the next generation. Although, this judgment based on eugenics is now condemned by most, it is still practiced in the U.S prison system. I believe, it’s time that government pays attention to the flaws and failures in the prison health care systems and address ethical issues for the protection of inmates.

  2. This was a fascinating perspective and personally made me think of questions similar to “why are they there in the first place?” It is a legitimate concern of too many people in prisons, so perhaps the laws that place them there need to be reassessed. Are people who have done lesser crimes kept there too long? Should other things be legalized? Are prisons in certain areas particularly troublesome and overflowing, and if so, how far should criminals be distributed among other prisons? It is absurd to think of the amount of money you cited as the cost to keep someone not wanted in society alive. It is more than those who are law abiding, suggesting that it is like a gift! It is no wonder some people purposely break the law to have access to the securities of prison.

    1. Reading this post was refreshing, as it was a perspective on a particular scenario that had not really crossed my mind. According to “The Health and Health Care of US Prisoners: Results of a Nationwide Survey”, a significant number of inmates who require a certain amount of medical or psychological needs to be met, are severely under-met. This then calls for a change in the system. Because the healthcare needs of prisoners are not met, either prison healthcare access needs to increase or the number of prisoners needs to decrease. Should we be more lenient with shorter prison sentences or be harsher with the death penalty? The only thing that is clear is that some type of healthcare reform for prisons is overdue.

  3. This is a very interesting point. It was not something that I thought about when reading the articles for class, but it is definitely an issue that should be discussed. I wonder how the new health care law will effect care in prisons or if it even will have an effect. Like you have stated already, health care in prisons is not very good, and often patients do not receive the care they need, and money is not even a factor in the equation. Perhaps, with the new laws, patient care in prisons will become better.

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