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4 trends in correctional healthcare

From healthier food options to mental health screenings, correctional facilities are improving inmate healthcare without busting budgets


Several trends, including a focus on mental and physical health, can be seen across the corrections profession in an effort to improve healthcare for inmates.


By James Capozzi

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that about 1 in 38 adults in the U.S. were under some form of correctional supervision at the end of 2016. With more than 2.1 million inmates incarcerated across the country, the ability to provide adequate healthcare for those citizens while sticking to a budget can be difficult.

In the 1976 case of Estelle v. Gamble, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that failure to provide basic medical care to a prisoner violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution banning cruel and unusual punishment. Since then, the quality of correctional healthcare has vastly improved. However, according to the National Survey of Prison Health Care (NSPHC), a study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and BJS in 2017, prison inmates still have higher rates of mental illness, chronic medical conditions and infectious diseases when compared with the general population.

Now, facilities like the Maryland Correctional Institution are taking a closer look at ways to better correctional healthcare. Several trends, including a focus on mental and physical health, can be seen across the corrections profession in an effort to improve healthcare for inmates, while still remaining budget-conscious.

1. A focus on mental health

Prisons nationwide have made a concentrated effort to provide more and better access to mental health professionals. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the “dual diagnosis of addiction and mental illness is common in prisoners. Over 70% of prisoners with mental illness report regular drug or alcohol use in the month prior to incarceration.” Addressing substance abuse and mental health issues while incarcerated can help prevent relapse and reduce the chance of future incarceration.

Increasingly, correctional facilities have begun screening inmates upon admission and training all employees to properly engage with the mentally ill. Some states like Illinois have even created treatment centers that serve inmates with mental health issues, employing hundreds of healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses, dieticians, occupational and physical therapists and psychiatrists.

2. Adding in-facility services

Many correctional facilities are located in rural areas, meaning inmates have to be transported further to receive care. Telemedicine is being used by correctional institutions to limit transportation costs and add additional services within the facility.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey found that 30 of the 45 states that responded to the survey used telemedicine for at least one type of specialty or diagnostic service. Using telehealth technology, doctors and patients in prison can connect without meeting in person, aiding in the delivery of mental healthcare, management of chronic illnesses and more.

Additionally, the use of mobile units for MRI and CT scans, ultrasounds, x-rays and ophthalmology help to keep inmates within the facility while providing access to the best possible care.

3. Cost containment

Another way correctional institutions are being cost-effective while providing better healthcare to inmates is by partnering with third-party administrators (TPA). Through TPAs, institutions can utilize existing comprehensive provider networks with better access to quality care at a lower cost. TPAs manage the relationships and the guarantees of payment with medical providers and provide additional services when requested, including telehealth, mobile units, on-site healthcare professionals and more. Many institutions don’t have the time, budget or expertise to build a provider network, so they benefit from the relationships and pricing TPA partners can offer.

4. Healthier dietary options

Offering healthier food options helps curb a number of issues faced by male and female inmates alike. According to a recent Washington Post story, the warden at Maryland Correctional Institution worked with the institution’s dietary manager to change a state law that required male and female inmates to receive the same menu. This change improved the health of female inmates by providing them with a more appropriate diet. Recognized benefits from the change include easing chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, saving money on medications and healthcare costs, and boosting morale among inmates.

Providing better correctional healthcare not only provides a better quality of life for inmates, it also helps set them up for a stronger future when they re-enter society. What inmate healthcare trends are you seeing in your correctional facility? Reply in the comment box below.

About the author

James Capozzi is the business development director for the Seven Corners Bureau of Prisons division. He focuses on negotiating financially beneficial reimbursement arrangements with local hospitals, surgery centers, and ancillary facilities to provide a robust provider network for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. James brings more than a decade of contract development and management experience to this position, along with an expansive knowledge of the insurance industry. Seven Corners currently services 18 federal correctional facilities, managing health care services for more than 25,000 inmates nationwide.