How Good Is Prison Med Care? It Depends: Slate


In light of continuing travails in California’s prisons, Slate’s “Explainer” asks, “What’s the health care like in prison, anyway?” His answer: “It depends on the state. At best, it’s about as good as a low-income health plan. At worst, it’s almost nonexistent. In general, when a prisoner gets sick, he tells the on-duty guard. If it’s not urgent–a sore throat, say, or an ear infection–the guard will put his name on a list, and an appointment with the prison’s in-house doctor may be set up for as soon as the next day. To handle emergencies, most prisons have a nurse on duty 24 hours a day.”

The Explainer continues, “The majority of ailments are treated on-site, but inmates who are gravely ill can be taken to the nearest hospital. Sick prisoners must make a nominal co-payment for each visit to the jailhouse doctor–usually $5 or so…Costs above that are covered by the state…Prisoners get checkups, too, but probably not as often as most people. Incoming inmates always get a physical, blood test and all, to check for diseases or drugs…Inmates of both genders older than 60 get a yearly electrocardiogram. At least that’s the theory. In practice, many prison systems are so overcrowded that prisoners have to wait days to see a doctor, even in emergency situations.”

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