May 10, 2016
Correctional facilities have a constitutional obligation to provide for the health and well-being of those under their charge, but maintaining inmate health and safety is a significant challenge. This report presents the results of an expert panel convened to consider these challenges and identify a series of needs that, if addressed, could significantly reduce inmate mortality rates.
Correctional facilities are responsible for the care, custody, and control of individuals who are detained while awaiting trial or who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. The true scope of this mission is much broader than simply protecting the public from those accused or convicted of criminal acts by keeping these individuals behind bars. These facilities also have a constitutional obligation to provide for the health and well-being of those under their charge. Administrators are responsible for not only developing and implementing strategies to prevent violence among the inmate population and inmate self-harm, but also for providing general health care through medical and mental health services.
Maintaining inmate health and safety is a significant challenge. Correctional facilities are often overcrowded, understaffed, and underfunded. Many inmates suffer from chronic medical conditions, mental health disorders, infectious diseases, and substance dependence in numbers that are often disproportionate in comparison to the general population. Further, the incarceration experience itself can be detrimental to overall health and safety in a variety of ways.
While some level of in-custody deaths are inevitable — for example, the passing of elderly inmates from old age — certain types of mortality are highly preventable with the proper interventions. This effort convened a panel of prison and jail administrators, researchers, and health care professionals to consider the challenges related to inmate mortality in correctional facilities and opportunities for improved outcomes. Through structured brainstorming and prioritization of the results, the panel identified a series of needs that, if addressed, could significantly reduce inmate mortality rates.