Improving Social and Healthcare Supports for Individuals Reentering Communities After Incarceration

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Research has shown that people with chronic medical and behavioral health conditions who reenter communities after incarceration are at a greater risk for adverse health outcomes. These individuals also face obstacles with accessing needed care and social supports, leading to more challenges to an already strained public health system.

A new health policy brief in Health Affairs, “Prison And Jail Reentry And Health,” by a group of researchers including Commonwealth Medicine’s Warren J. Ferguson, MD, director of academic programs, and Meaghan F. Dupuis, MA, LMHC, senior director of operations, Health and Criminal Justice Program, takes an in-depth look at what can be done to help those returning to the community to ensure they have access to good healthcare.

Reentry and pre-release programs are highlighted in the brief as a way to improve health outcomes and potentially reduce recidivism. Many of these programs use supports such as cognitive behavioral therapy and attempt to address the challenges of social determinants of health such as housing and employment. The brief describes several programs that are currently underway across the country.

“This brief highlights the need to improve supports for individuals preparing for release and reentry from incarceration,” said Dr. Ferguson. “This manuscript attempts to efficiently summarize proven reentry interventions but also points to the need for broader policy reforms given the scope of mass incarceration in the United States and the disproportionate burden on Black and Brown people. Community reentry has emerged as an area of much interest and discussion at our annual Academic & Health Policy Conference on Correctional Health.”

The brief was a cooperative effort between Ferguson, Dupuis, and several health and criminal justice experts, including lead author, Ebony N. Russ, Harvard University, and co-authors Lisa Puglisi, Yale University, Gabe B. Eber, Johns Hopkins University, Diane S. Morse, University of Rochester School of Medicine, Faye S. Taxman, George Mason University, and Evan Ashkin, University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Commonwealth Medicine’s Health and Criminal Justice Program

Health and criminal justice agencies face significant challenges in providing high-quality, cost-effective care to incarcerated populations, which typically have high rates of chronic medical conditions, substance use disorders, and mental illness. In 1998, Commonwealth Medicine, the consulting and operations division of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, established the Health and Criminal Justice Program to provide consulting services and research-driven technical, academic, and policy support and resources to criminal justice agencies in the planning and delivery of healthcare to incarcerated populations. It provides comprehensive healthcare services to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, including third-party contracting.

Academic Consortium on Criminal Justice Health (ACCJH)

In addition, Commonwealth Medicine has developed the Academic Consortium on Criminal Justice Health (ACCJH), a center of national significance for criminal justice health researchers, educators, clinicians, and scholars. Formed in 2010, the ACCJH includes members from most academic health science centers in the U.S. and from several other countries. Together this group hosts the Academic and Health Policy Conference on Correctional Health to support ACCJH’s mission of advancing the science and practice of healthcare for individuals and populations within the criminal justice system.