How Affordable Care Act May Help Ex-Inmates, Cut Recidivism


An astonishing two-thirds of the 730,000 people released each year from U.S. lockups have either substance abuse problems, mental health problems, or both, says Often, those problems were largely responsible for getting them locked up in the first place. Most addicted and mentally ill prisoners receive little or no effective treatment while they're incarcerated or after they're turned loose, so it's little surprise they soon wind up back in jail. For some, that revolving door may stop spinning thanks to President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Get that junkie off heroin, and maybe he won't steal your car stereo for fix money; get that mentally ill homeless person on proper medications, and maybe she can find a job instead of turning tricks in alleys. “It's not the drug itself, it's the stealing and robbing they do to get the drug,” says Abbie Zimmerman of Transitions Clinic in San Francisco, which helps former prisoners. The ACA’s expansion of Medicaid other changes in the law mean that tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of inmates released every year are now eligible for health insurance, including coverage for mental health and substance abuse services. If only one percent of each year's released inmates stay out of trouble, taxpayers will save nearly $200 million annually—and the pool of troubled ex-cons looking to steal your car stereo will be that much smaller.

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