Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Health care for prisoners

Jerry Stratton, September 21, 2004

I just finished reading an editorial in Reader’s Digest (don’t ask) calling for discriminating against prisoners when it comes to health care. For example, dropping them to the bottom of the list for life-saving treatment or denying them necessary but expensive health care. I strongly disagree with this. I feel that our criminal justice system has to account for the possibility that it might be wrong.

A person who is wrongfully imprisoned, or who is imprisoned for a crime that should not be a crime, no longer has the opportunity to get their own health care. For many prisoners, health care has been taken away from them because they were taken away from a productive job which gave them access to health care. It’s bad enough to jail someone for being black, or hispanic, or for smoking pot, but to take away their job and then sit back and watch them die or watch temporary disabilities become permanent? Denying health care to people we are responsible for is, as the Supreme Court has ruled, cruel and unusual.

If we don’t want to be responsible for them, we should not be putting them in prison.

A construction worker who gets ten years for smoking pot doesn’t deserve that ten years to become a life sentence just because we took away their health insurance. A college graduate who is implicated solely on the testimony of an unreliable informant deserves the health care that they would have received had they gone on to become a productive member of society.

Frankly, I think we need to consider extending health care to the families of prisoners. We would have to face up to the fact that when we jail people for breaking stupid laws we are costing society its health, and we are ruining real lives. I agree that with the huge number of people we put into jail it isn’t worth it. The solution is not to kill people for violating bad laws, it is to repeal the bad laws and not put them in jail in the first place.

But the bottom line is that our legal system can, sometimes, imprison people who should not be imprisoned. Denying or delaying health care because “they don’t deserve it” is wrong, and ensures that legal mistakes become deadly mistakes.

February 27, 2005: Private Health Care in Jails Can Be a Death Sentence

I haven’t read it, because I don’t register with the New York Times (also, I’m in a hotel room stealing somebody else’s wireless and wouldn’t want to send passwords through their “warroom” in any case), but Paul von Zielbauer is apparently taking on health care in jails.

Good, because this is important. But I have a suspicion from the title that he’s specifically blaming private health care instead of the fact that we just don’t care about health care in prisons and we tend to hire monopolies instead of promoting competition where it counts: making sick people healthy. But at least someone is paying attention.

Amygdala tends to confirm my suspicions, though it may be their own private (pun intended) spin.

This is not a matter of public vs. private systems. A purely state-run health care system would be just as bad, or worse: more prone to political expediencies, more worries about giving “too much” health care to murderers, etc. But as long as there is still the possibility that we have imprisoned people for crimes that they did not commit, and as long as we continue to imprison people for crimes that should not be crimes, prison health care must be at least as good as health care outside of prisons. In my opinion, it should be the same health care as is available outside of prisons.

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