By Tim Werth
Americans are often miffed at the idea that U.S. prisoners receive free healthcare via tax dollars. What a lot of critics don’t realize is that it’s not usually good healthcare. In some cases, there’s evidence that it’s not even humane healthcare. Based on professional research and chilling anecdotes, the image of the weight-lifting inmate with free expensive medicines and treatments is not the reality.
In typical American urgent care centres, the vast majority (92%) have wait times equal to or less than a half hour and 85% are open seven days a week. When inmates need medical care, they fill out a request to be seen. Shockingly often, these requests are denied on the grounds that the ailment is not serious enough to warrant care, or even based on the belief that the inmate is faking. Ironically, many inmates have to fake a higher degree of illness to be seen at all.
In one recent instance at a Florida prison, inmate Donna Pickelsimer was revealed to have undiagnosed lung cancer. Despite her worsening condition, the private health-care company affiliated with the prison neglected to properly investigate Pickelsimer’s illness and instead treated the symptoms of lung cancer with Tylenol and warm compresses. The neglect resulted in her death during the fourth year of her fifteen-year sentence.
The story isn’t a shock to those familiar with the current state of Florida’s prison system. Ever since the state relinquished control of prison medical care in 2012, the number of critically ill inmates sent for outside hospital care has dropped severely; by some estimates, close to 47%. Prisons typically rely on on-site medical wards to take care of mild to moderate injuries and illness, but they’re notoriously ill-equipped and understaffed.
Misunderstandings and Stress
Many prisons rely on medical students and volunteers to provide some extra level of care. Unfortunately, the inexperience of students can cause some tension and inadequate care that could even be harmful for the prisoner involved. Being thrown into such a stressful situation isn’t a cakewalk for the student, either.
One interesting solution? Specific training for medical students on caring for current and ex-inmates. University of Wisconsin – Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health is experimenting this fall 2018 semester with a 20-student course in providing care in correctional settings. The course will also reportedly cover caring for the needs of former inmates who may have unique stressors and less-than-pleasant past medical experiences.
Working On The Roots
Not only is medical care quality dropping below the ideal, health accommodations in prisons, in general, need some reform. Nutrition, exercise, and stimulation in American prisons have all been globally critiqued. As an example, the practice of martial arts is highly discouraged or banned in many American prisons due to the associations with violence, despite some allowed programs showing immense promise and benefits.
There isn’t a lot of room for exercise in prison even in the allotted yard time, and weight rooms are ageing. Experts are encouraging more American prisons to consider outlets like boxing and martial arts to let inmates release pent-up energy, anxieties, and anger. Not only have these programs been character-building and enjoyable for inmates, but simply an hour of moderate-intensity martial arts exercises can burn up to 500 calories and mentally stimulate practitioners.
Of course, martial arts is just one possible path towards more holistic health care in prisons. While boxing and martial arts programs are common in some international prisons, western countries have so far been reluctant to embrace boxing or mixed martial arts. Regardless of the path, it’s clear that change is needed.
According to Science Daily, a review of 95 international studies on inmate health found that targeted interventions have positive outcomes for both inmates and their communities. When mental health, infectious diseases, and addiction are adequately treated in prison populations, the positive effects extend beyond the prison itself.
Today, there are more than 2 million Americans currently living in U.S. prisons, and many of them are desperately awaiting the medical care they need.
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