Prisoners must pay for health care

A study conducted by Brennan Center for Criminal Justice at the New York University’s School of Law discovered that prisoners are required to pay for medical services they receive while in prisons. In most states, inmates are required to make copayment of up to $100 for medical treatment, the study says.

Study author Lauren Brooke-Eisen, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center’s justice program, reported that the Federal Bureau of Prisons allows inmates to be charged copayments for medical treatment. Some states require emergency treatment and hospitalization copayments for routine care. At least 35 states require these payments from inmates.

Health care is not the only service the inmates must finance. Over 50 percent of states charge inmates for room and board, phone calls and use of the internet. Although the prison system needs funds, charging inmates for health care can work to prevent them seeking the care that they need.

A 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Justice said that more than 50 percent of prison and jail inmates reported having a mental health issue. In the general population, 11 percent of people report mental illness. Only 1 in 3 prison inmates and 1 in 6 jail inmates receive any form of mental health treatment. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, there are more seriously and persistently mentally ill people in prisons than in all state hospitals in the United States.

Even minor fees could prevent inmates seeking health care, potentially curbing the maintenance care of chronic medical conditions. Inmates are allowed commissary accounts for money sent by family members or earned while working in prison.

A 2009 study, published in the American Journal of Public Health found that many inmates have no health insurance when entering prison and often go without care and of those with chronic health problems many received no care while incarcerated. The study also noted that 68 percent of local jail inmates, 20 percent of state prisoners and 14 percent of federal inmates did not receive a medical exam while incarcerated.

Dr. Josiah Rich, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Brown University, holds a clinic each week at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections in Cranston. The prison recently announced that over-the-counter medicines prescribed by the doctor such as Tylenol or skin ointment must be purchased by the prisoner using their own funds. Dr. Rich said, “Charging prisoners for health care is yet another way of kicking them when they’re down.”

Many physical conditions and mental health disorders worsen if left untreated; the sooner the treatment begins, the faster a person can return to a normal healthy life. If you or a loved one would like further information about mental health disorders and treatment, please call the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline at 855-653-8178.