More and more persons with mental illnesses, addiction disorders, and chronic and infectious diseases receive their medical care in a jail or prison, according to new research. As of mid-2007, approximately 13 million inmates had been admitted to U.S. jails during the previous 12 months.
Yet historically, incarcerated populations have been mostly excluded from university-based health research, leaving critical questions related specifically to inmate populations largely unstudied and unanswered. This concern takes added urgency since the vast majority of incarcerated persons in the United States eventually return home, impacting the health of their communities.
"Excluding incarcerated patient populations from university-based research is increasingly viewed as thwarting needed advancements in public health," writes Newton E. Kendig, MD, assistant director, health services division, Federal Bureau of Prisons, in an introduction to the issue.
The first Academic and Health Policy Conference on Correctional Health, hosted by UMass Medical School, sought to bridge the gap between correctional health care and academic medicine. It linked academic researchers with correctional health care administrators and clinicians and with the broader public health community.
The three main articles summarize the work of three task forces from the Conference that focused on, respectively, primary care, infectious disease and mental health. The articles are Infectious Disease in Correctional Health Care: Pursuing a Research Agenda, Correctional Mental Health Research: Opportunities and Barriers, and Correctional Health Primary Care: Research and Educational Opportunities. The articles address the status quo in each area, identify areas in which research and education are especially needed, and highlight challenges.
"We hope this special section will inspire collaborations between academia and corrections to further the scope of research that is so vitally needed to improve health outcomes," said JCHC editor John Miles, MPA. "Such efforts promise great benefits not only for thousands of inmates but also for the health of the public as a whole."
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