Prisoner Reentry and Public Health: Is Your State Ready?

RAND Congressional Briefing Series

Throughout the United States, record numbers of convicted criminals—roughly 700,000 each year—are reentering the general population.

Research has found that the prison population is disproportionately sicker, on average, than the U.S. population in general, with substantially higher burdens of infectious diseases (such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis B and C) and serious mental illness. When prisoners are released and return to communities, an often-overlooked concern is the health care needs that former prisoners have and the role that health care plays in how successfully they reintegrate. To a large extent, the reentry population will eventually become part of the uninsured and medically indigent populations in communities across the nation, leading to important considerations for government prisoner reentry and health care programs.

This briefing focuses on

  • how health affects reentry into a community;
  • the critical roles that health care providers, other social services, and family members play in successful reentry;
  • recommendations for improving access to care for this population in the current fiscal environment.

Lois Davis presents evidence from California on the health care needs of newly released prisoners. This study was conducted in the context of budget cuts that have substantially shrunk California's safety net and the May 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering California to reduce its prison population by 33,000.

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