Starting next spring, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will become what’s believed to be the first corrections agency in the U.S. to 3-D-print dentures for inmates on site, the Houston Chronicle reports. “It sounds like a miracle,” said criminal justice consultant Michele Deitch of the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. “I’ve never heard of anything like it.” In a faster alternative to traditional denture-making, technicians at prisons across the state will use wands to scan the mouths of toothless inmates, then send off the image to a central location for 3-D-printing, cutting down the process from months to weeks.
The system will avoid the need to transport prisoners across the state and, though the initial purchase of the equipment is pricey, officials said the individual sets of dentures could be as little as $50 apiece. For years, the prison system provided dentures produced in-house through a vocational program for inmates. That ended in 2003, and the availability of dentures fell sharply. In 2004, prison medical providers ordered 1,295 dentures. The following year, that number fell to 518 and then 258. By 2016, prison medical providers approved giving out 71 dentures to a population of more than 149,000 inmates. California — the next-largest prison system — gave inmates a total of 4,818 complete and partial dentures in 2016. , according to state data there. Over the course of a year-long investigation, more than two dozen inmates wrote letters or spoke to the Chronicle to detail the problem. In October, prison officials announced plans to change policies, hire a denture specialist, start a denture clinic, train unit dentists to better identify when dentures are necessary, and review all denture-related grievances from the past year to re-evaluate any prisoners who filed complaints.