The new federal Affordable Care Act offers “an incredible opportunity to build on  pockets of progress” in improving health care for jail inmates, says Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson. Speaking to a conference on the issue yesterday in Washington, D.C., Robinson noted that although inmates “have a constitutional right to health care, [ ] federal benefits are either suspended or terminated once a person goes behind bars.” Jail and prison resources to provide care vary widely. Robinson said the new health care law provides the opportunity for more continuity of care for prisoners.
By the time federal regulations implementing the law are complete in 2014, she said, “the obstacles to coverage may be eliminated for detainees, and so community-based providers will have an incentive to work closely with jails and prisons to serve the needs of their populations.” Also at the conference, which was sponsored by the private organization Community Oriented Correctional Health Services, Bonnie Veysey, of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers in New Jersey, said that providing more health care and substance abuse treatment has the potential of reducing crime and the number of arrests related to mental illness. Noting that some people are jailed primarily because of the lack of treatment, she said, “incarcerating people because of illness doesn’t make sense.” More than 9 million people are booked into U.S. jails each year; 15 percent of many jail budgets go to health care.