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TribBlog: Report Says Healthier Prisons = Healthier Communities

Spending more to improve prison mental and physical health care could improve public health in the free world, according to findings of researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and the University of Oxford in England.

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Spending more to improve prison mental and physical health care could improve public health in the free world, according to findings of researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and University of Oxford in England.

“Prisoners act as reservoirs of infection and chronic disease, increasing the public health burden of poor communities,” they write in the report scheduled for release tomorrow. “Most prisoners return to their communities with their physical and psychiatric morbidity occasionally untreated and sometimes worsened.”

Worldwide, some 10 million people are incarcerated. In the U.S., the incarceration rate is 756 per 100,000 compared to a mean of 145 per 100,000 worldwide, according to the report. And that prison population is generally significantly less healthy, both physically and mentally, than the rest of the population. Those poor health conditions are typically attributed to behavioral and socioeconomic factors that also make individuals more likely to wind up behind bars.

The researchers concluded that instead of serving as warehouses for criminals with physical and mental diseases, prisons could provide opportunities for health workers to diagnose and treat individuals and help them find continued medical help so that when they are released from prison, they don't add to the health burden in their communities. Jacques Baillargeon, an associate professor and epidemiologist in UTMB's department of preventive medicine and community health, said that while there may be public resistance to spending tax dollars for inmate health care, taxpayers usually end up paying when those inmates come out of prison with critical medical problems. "For most U.S. inmates, who are without private health insurance upon release from prison, treatment of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and congestive heart failure will ultimately require substantial use of public resources," Baillargeon said.

The report recommends health care resources be targeted at prisons to provide screening, prevention and intervention. It also recommends a discharge program for released prisoners that links them to community health programs.

To read the full report, click here.

To read the Tribune's recent report on illness-related deaths in local Texas jails, click here.

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