U.S. Prisoner Reentry Health Care Policy in International Perspective

March 01, 2012

More than 735,000 inmates are released from U.S. prisons annually, many of whom have mental and physical health problems that go largely unaddressed during incarceration and on return to society. That has led some scholars and policy makers to imply this is specific to the United States and to call for reducing the health needs–services gap among inmates and ex-prisoners. The goal of this article is to argue that (a) the magnitude of this gap, while likely large, remains unknown, (b) the United States is far from unique in having a needs–services gap, (c) the decision to provide health care to inmates and ex-prisoners constitutes a moral policy decision with potentially profound public health and cost impacts on offenders, their families, and the communities to which they return, and (d) research on health care needs–services gaps among inmate and reentry populations should become a priority for developing cost-effective, evidence-based responses to address such gaps. The article concludes with a discussion of implications for research and policy.

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