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Letter: Medical and mental health services in the prison system

Each day, men, women and children behind bars suffer needlessly from lack of adequate medical and mental health care. Chronic illnesses go untreated, emergencies are ignored and people with serious mental illness fail to receive necessary care. For some people, poor medical care turns a minor sentence into a death sentence.

The failure to provide prisoners with access to needed health care too often results in tragedy. It also violates the U.S. Constitution. Forty-five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Estelle v. Gamble that ignoring a prisoner’s serious medical needs can amount to cruel and unusual punishment, noting that “[a]n inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat their medical needs; if the authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met. In the worst cases, such failures may actually produce physical torture or a lingering death. … In less serious cases, denial of medical care may result in pain and suffering, which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose.”

The overwhelming majority of people behind bars will someday be released. Providing prisoners with care today means having healthier neighbors who will be contributing members of their community in the future.

Now, it’s your turn! I would like to hear of your experiences and/or concerns regarding the treatment of people with mental health issues and the lack of medical and/or mental health services while incarcerated. I may be reached at: gottahavehope38@gmail.com

Mark Jacobson

Winona