Translating Research into Policy to Advance Correctional Health
Across much of the world, nations are reconciling the unintended consequences of a decades-long trend in criminal justice that has greatly expanded the reach of the penal state by criminalizing behaviors arising out of treatable medical conditions and favoring punishment – and often severe punishment - over rehabilitation as the primary product of justice. In view of that recent history, criminal justice reform has emerged in many jurisdictions and nations – alongside climate change and poverty reduction – as a critical consensus priority area for the 21st century.
As these reform efforts mature, there is an increasing – and increasingly important - acknowledgement of the central role that health plays in criminal justice systems. Too often, as with substance use disorders and mental illness, untreated health conditions are at the root of criminal justice involvement. Too often, as with under-resourced correctional health agencies and the widespread use of long-term solitary confinement, criminal justice systems impose an undue health burden on those under its supervision. Too often, the health deficits that accrue to the justice-involved are left unattended to the great detriment of families, communities, labor markets, and community health and social welfare systems. Many criminal justice systems around the world – including systems of community supervision – have for too long missed a vital opportunity to improve the health of people who experience poor access to care in the community. This story – the deep and often lasting intersection between criminal justice involvement and health – is as old as modern systems of justice. Now, a growing number of criminal justice and health organizations – not just an exceptional few - are embarking on concerted partnerships to ensure that those who enter the criminal justice system leave it in better health than when they arrived.
This special issue of the International Journal of Prisoner Health aims to advance this effort, however modestly, by drawing attention to opportunities where a health-based approach to reform has the potential to improve health and criminal justice outcomes for justice-involved individuals.
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