Penal Harm Public Health: Infectious Diseases and the Consequences of Non-Intervention in Jail Systems

M. Katherine Maeve, University of South Carolina

It is commonly noted in the U.S. that infectious diseases, primarily tuberculosis, HIV disease and Hepatitis C, are enormous problems within incarcerated populations. The blame for these burgeoning epidemics is most often attributed to prison and jail health care systems that fail to appropriately screen for, and treat, infectious diseases. Less acknowledged, however, is the failure of public health systems, and public health leaders, to not only insure that screenings and treatments take place, but to insure that adequate follow-up is provided upon an inmate's release. Traditionally, public health has been grounded on the notion that disease prevention in the weakest elements of society ultimately ensured protection for the strongest. It is argued, however, that an implicit endorsement of a "penal harm" perspective has become so pervasive that public health systems and leaders have openly abrogated their responsibility to all of us--to the "public."

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Updated 05/20/2006