Congress Asked to Investigate Health Crisis in Prisons by Coalition of Civil Rights Organizations, Medical Practitioners, and Corrections Officials

January 27, 2003 12:00 am

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Statement of Coalition for Better Treatment


WASHINGTON-Releasing sick prisoners into the community without proper treatment or opportunities to continue treatment presents a major threat to public health and demonstrates why Congress must investigate the medical care crisis in the country’s correctional systems, a coalition including the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

The coalition pointed to a federal study released today that highlights the dismal health status of confined individuals and the threat they pose to outside populations. The new study, The Health Status of Soon-To-Be-Released Inmates: A Report to Congress, was produced by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and sponsored by the National Institute of Justice. The double volume document includes recommendations for care and promotes the adoption of nationally accepted clinical guidelines for treatment of prisoners.

Growing numbers of incarcerated individuals suffer disproportionately from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, mental illness, substance addiction and many chronic diseases. Corrections departments are overwhelmed by the high cost of providing medical care and face serious challenges to providing treatment to patients. Untreated patients jeopardize the health and safety of prison and jail staff, institution visitors, prisoners and the communities to which they return.

According to the report, inmates released from prison or jail comprised 35 percent of the U.S. population infected with tuberculosis in 1996 and accounted for 17 percent of the AIDS infected population. Nearly 330,000 imprisoned individuals tested positive for Hepatitis C in 1997 and approximately 1.4 million Hepatitis C infected individuals left prison or jail in 1996.

In Michigan last week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the state alleging that some prisoners infected with Hepatitis C were not notified of their status or educated on how to prevent disease. Last year, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that numerous prisoners in New Jersey were released into the community never knowing they had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C. Infected persons can unwittingly spread the disease to loved ones and sexual partners.

The coalition applauds the recent pledge by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and other Republican leaders to improve racial minorities’ access to medical care. More than one million Hispanic and African American men and women live behind bars in the United States on any given day, accounting for half the imprisoned population. Republican efforts to reduce inequalities in care should include initiatives to provide better treatment to prisoners. Conducting hearings on today’s report would be an important first step for Congress.

The new report to Congress is online at and

Members of the Coalition for Better Treatment include:

The Aleph Institute

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

American Civil Liberties Union

American Friends Service Committee

American Public Health Association

California Prison Focus

Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants)

Families Against Mandatory Minimums

Florida Justice Institute

Human Rights Watch

John Howard Association

Justice Policy Institute

Legal Research Services

Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems

National Council of La Raza

National Health Care for the Homeless Council

New York City Legal Aid Society

Open Society Policy Center

Penal Reform International

Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project

Prisoner Legal Services of New York

Prison Law Office

Public Justice Center

Chase Riveland, former Secretary of the Washington Department of Corrections and former Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections
The Sentencing Project

Southern Center for Human Rights

Stop Prisoner Rape

Youth Law Center

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