Dr. Warren Ferguson calls for academic health science centers to address correctional health through research, training, clinical care

May 09, 2016

UMass Medical School’s criminal justice health expert Warren J. Ferguson, MD, calls on academic health science centers to address the effect of criminal justice involvement on public health through research, training and clinical care in a lead commentary that he co-authored in a special issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

“The authors believe that academic health science centers and governmental organizations concerned with health care, health training, and health services research have equal responsibilities to address the American mass incarceration phenomenon in the U.S. Unless more multidimensional justice and health care reforms are offered, the efforts to prevent recidivism, to reduce health disparities, and to mitigate the economic and societal consequences of incarceration will be lost,” the article said.

In the May edition of the journal, “A Call to Action: A Blueprint for Academic Health Sciences in the Era of Mass Incarceration,” emphasizes the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. in the past 40 years has risen 700 percent, a rate that is seven times greater than in most developed Western European countries. More than 80 percent of arrests are directly or indirectly connected to drug or alcohol abuse and more than 15 percent of inmates have mental illness, according to the authors. In addition, 30 to 40 percent have chronic medical conditions, including infections from drug injections.

The authors urge the collaboration of academic health science and academic criminal justice institutions to address what they term “one of the country’s most vexing crises.” 

The article was co-authored by Dr. Ferguson, director of academic programs for UMass Medical School’s Health and Criminal Justice Program and chair of the Academic Consortium on Criminal Justice Health; David Cloud, JD, MPH, Vera Institute of Justice; Anne C. Spaulding, MD, MPH, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University; Deborah Shelton, PhD, RN, NE-BC, CCHP, FAAN, Center for Correctional Health Networks, University of Connecticut School of Nursing; Robert L. Trestman, PhD, MD, Department of Medicine, Psychiatry and Nursing, University of Connecticut Health Center; Frederick L. Altice, MD, Departments of Medicine, Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine; Carisa Champion-Lippmann, JD, Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine; David Thomas, MD, JD, EdD, Department of Surgery, Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine; and Faye S. Taxman, PhD, Department of Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason University.

The authors note that a 2004 call for collaboration between the criminal justice system and academic institutions led to the first Academic and Health Policy Conference on Correctional Health in 2007 and the formation of the Academic Consortium on Criminal Justice Health, both founded by Ferguson and supported by UMass Medical School.

The article offers recommendations to address mass incarceration and its health implications, among them:

  • Including the type of justice involvement and status of the individual in epidemiology surveys.
  • Conducting more intervention studies in specific sites such as jails, prisons, probation and parole, to understand how to engage clients and the effects of interventions on health and justice outcomes.
  • Using implementation science to understand how to adapt and adopt proven practices and treatments in justice settings.
  • Addressing the need to prepare those in undergraduate, predoctoral and postdoctoral degree and training programs to care for justice-involved populations in all health care disciplines.
  • Requiring a core curriculum on criminal justice health at academic health science institutions by accreditation organizations.
  • Adapting best community practices for the prevention and management of chronic diseases, gender-specific care and care for aging populations in correctional settings.
  • Developing agreements for academic health centers to serve as post-release referral hospitals and medical homes with coordinated care transition.
  • Beginning collaboration of scholars in the fields of criminal justice and health care.

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