Almost a fifth of US state and federal prisoners currently suffer from an infectious disease, including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tuberculosis or other sexually transmitted disease (STD); and about 40% of prisoners and jail inmates have been diagnosed with a chronic medical condition. This is according to the 2011–12 National Inmate Survey, from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).
The survey demonstrated that half of state and federal prisoners and jail inmates have a history of chronic conditions, including noninfectious medical problems like cancer, high blood pressure, problems associated with stroke, diabetes, heart-related problems, kidney-related problems, arthritis, asthma and cirrhosis of the liver. However, the survey highlights that due to situations of resolved disease, remission or no need for treatment, the percentage of prisoners currently suffering from a chronic disease is lower.
The conclusions of the survey were summarized in a report entitled “Medical Problems of State and Federal Prisoners and Jail Inmates, 2011–12,” which was authored by Laura Maruschak from the BJS, and Marcus Berzofsky and Jennifer Unangst of the RTI International, using documents and data from the BJS’s statistical publications and programs.
The research revealed then that 21% of prisoners and 14% of jail inmates have had hepatitis B or C, tuberculosis, and other STDs, while 1% were reported to be HIV positive. Despite the fact that prisoners are more likely to suffer from these conditions than the general population, the researchers noted that the percentages are declining.
The most common chronic disease reported, affecting 30% of the prisoners and 26% of jail inmates, was high blood pressure. In addition, 24% were said to have been diagnosed with two chronic diseases, while 12% of prisoners and 9% of jail inmates were reported to have both a chronic condition and an infectious disease — the female group having a higher prevalence of either chronic conditions and infections.
Among the prisoners and jail inmates who suffer from chronic conditions, 66% of the former and 40% of the latter are currently receiving prescribed medication. Prisoners and inmates who do not receive treatment either do not need it, as per physician’s recommendation, or are simply not given access to it in their facility.
In fact, the treatment of prisoners and inmates is a topic of concern with a wide range of considerations, ranging from how well cared-for a prisoner should be, to the economics involved in maintaining the prison population. However, recent research conducted at Stanford demonstrated that novel therapies for the treatment of hepatitis C virus may provide long-term cost-saving benefits for incarcerated patients, despite being expensive.
Regarding the health care in prison, more than eight in every 10 prisoners and jail inmates reported having been asked about their health conditions and medical history by the correctional staff, while 80% of prisoners and 47% of jail inmates said to have already seen a doctor, nurse or other health care professional after being admitted.
In both cases more than half of respondents (56% of prisoners and 51% of jail inmates) reported being satisfied with the health care services received, while 48% of the prisoners and 43% of the jail inmates believe that the health care provided while they already in jail or prison is either similar or better than the services received 12 months prior to admission.