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Healthcare in Correctional Facilities

On April 10, 2020, The Guardian made a news report about an uprising at the Lansing correctional facility in Kansas. According to the article, prisoners raided the facility, attacking the officers, setting small fires, and breaking windows. The reason for the rebellion was the concern about coronavirus as the number of infections rapidly increases in prisons. The article states that “the Lansing corrections department recently reported more than a dozen staff and 12 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 at the facility” (Evelyn, 2020, para. 3). Moreover, other jails faced the same issue, for example, in the Rikers Island facility, where correctional officers went as far as to pepper-spray eight people who asked for medical assistance (Evelyn, 2020, para. 17). Prisoners are worried that there are not enough supplies and qualified medical staff to prevent the spread of the virus among inmates. For this reason, many participated in the uprising, while also posting handmade signs pleading for help. Moreover, there has been a demand to release non-violent offenders and those who have not undergone trial yet. Such an event raises an ethical question of providing healthcare for convicted.

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First of all, it is important to note that issues of ethics are delicate, especially in criminal justice. Correctional facilities are significant when it comes to rehabilitating perpetrators and ensuring that they are ready to come back to society. However, prisons are often overcrowded, and the amount of sanitation supplies is insufficient to guarantee safety from infectious diseases. This fact is confirmed by the article where the reporter states that “many facilities have reported a lack of proper protective equipment amid the outbreak” (Evelyn, 2020, para. 7). The rapid spread of COVID-19 can potentially affect not only inmates but the staff as well. Such situations present a difficult challenge for medical staff of correctional facilities since ethically, they are obligated to provide healthcare for every patient, regardless of the circumstances.

Moreover, the request to release some offenders may seem unacceptable to their victims even though it may seem like an adequate measure to stop the virus from spreading. The victims may feel like perpetrators did not yet serve the right punishment for their crimes, so they must stay in the facility. For this reason, the decision to release some prisoners may cause discontent among the general public.

Such a delicate issue requires further research in order to work out ethical solutions. It is vital that the study coincides with the best interests of patients regardless of their crimes. First of all, new models of implementing adequate healthcare in correctional facilities should be thoroughly investigated, as well as their cost-effectiveness. In addition, the healthcare community should discuss this problem with correctional officers and policymakers in order to get their support in applying those models. It is evident that the issue of providing proper training for medical staff should also be studied.

Fortunately, even though the lack of appropriate treatment in prisons caused the spread of the disease, there are several solutions that can be implemented. For instance, Fiscella et al. (2017) suggest “incorporating the highest standards of community healthcare into the correctional setting” (p. 384). Such standards include more funding in prison healthcare and new policies regarding the suspension of Medicaid for inmates. The researchers believe that these solutions can reduce the healthcare crisis in such facilities and boost community health, which is especially crucial during the pandemic.

References

  1. Fiscella, K., Beletsky, L., & Wakeman, S. E. (2017). The inmate exception and reform of correctional health care. American journal of public health, 107(3), 384.

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