Category Archives: Jails and prisons

Apr 27 2014

How to Address Disparities? Recognize Incarceration as a Major Threat to Health.

To mark National Minority Health Month, the Human Capital Blog asked several Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) scholars to respond to questions about improving health care for all. In this post, Elizabeth Barnert, MD, MPH, MS, a pediatrician and clinical instructor in the UCLA Department of Pediatrics, responds to the question, “What does the country need to do to address disparities and build a culture of health that includes all people?” Barnert is an RWJF Clinical Scholar at UCLA.

While there is much to be done to improve equity and access to health care for all Americans, I believe that the most important strides in health we can make will occur by directly addressing the social and environmental determinants of health. Racial/ethnic and economic inequities strongly play out in the criminal justice system. This has important implications for health. Incarceration itself is a determinant of health.

Breaking cycles of incarceration has the potential to dramatically improve the health of entire communities, setting individuals and families on trajectories that are healthier, safer, more fulfilling, and more productive. To address incarceration, America must recognize that the patterns of mass incarceration prevalent in many disadvantaged communities perpetuate poor health outcomes, further widen social inequities, and often lead to further incarcerations within and across generations. Currently, 1 in 28 U.S. children, and 1 in 9 African American children, have a parent who is incarcerated. Two-thirds of these parents are incarcerated for non-violent offenses. By virtue of having an incarcerated parent, these children are at much higher risk of themselves becoming incarcerated at least once during their life course. 

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Apr 25 2014

How Can Health Systems Effectively Serve Minority Communities? Part of the Solution is Improving Care for Those in Correctional Facilities.

To mark National Minority Health Month, the Human Capital Blog asked several Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) scholars to respond to questions about improving health care for all. In this post, Raymond Perry, MD, MS, medical director of Los Angeles County Juvenile Court Health Services, responds to the question, “What are the challenges, needs, or opportunities for health systems to effectively serve minority communities?” Perry is an alumnus of the RWJF Clinical Scholars program (UCLA 2009-2012).

Racial and ethnic minorities are significantly overrepresented in the U.S. correctional system. As these men, women, and adolescents spend days, weeks, months, or years detained in jails, prisons, and juvenile detention facilities, the health care system must recognize the health implications of the disproportionate incarceration of minorities, as well as the opportunities for addressing minority health issues in our society—namely, inequitable health care access and disproportionately negative health outcomes. 

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Nov 1 2012

Thoughts on the APHA Closing Session: In the End, It is All About Power

Robert Otto Valdez, PhD, is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) professor of family & community medicine and economics at the University of New Mexico. He serves as executive director of the RWJF Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, a national program office for increasing diversity in health and health care leadership. This post is part of a series in which RWJF scholars, fellows and alumni who are attending the American Public Health Association annual meeting reflect on the experience.

The 140th Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA), the nation’s oldest gathering of public health professionals in the world, concluded yesterday as the San Francisco region celebrated the World Series victory of their beloved Giants.  Close to 13,000 public health professionals came together around the theme, Prevention and Wellness Across the Life Span.

The closing session focused on incarceration, justice, and health with a keynote speech by Angela Davis.  Our society has used mandatory sentencing and incarceration of Black and Latino young men and, more recently, immigrants as a form of social control that not only maintains the current social order but also contributes to the inequalities in health that result from inequitable society.

The kinds of mass incarceration costing some $70 to $100 billion a year has produced social inequalities that can be readily seen in the lives and families of the formerly incarcerated.  Bruce Western and Becky Pettit offered an insightful article in the Summer 2010 Daedalus that describes the creation of a group of social outcasts “who are joined by the shared experience of incarceration, crime, poverty, racial minority, and low education.”  These are all characteristics that contribute to social and economic disadvantage not only for those who were incarcerated but also their families.

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