According to 2016 data from the World Prison Brief, released by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, the United States has the highest national rate of imprisonment: 655 jailed persons per 100,000 of the national population. Canada and Mexico have rates of 114 and 164, respectively. The United States houses over 2 million inmates in 4,455 facilities that may fall under local, state or federal jurisdiction. Inmates are a huge sector of the American population. They’re a group that may not come to mind when thinking about our country’s most vulnerable populations, yet they face significant barriers to accessing adequate health care.
Policies for inmate health care
In 1955, the United Nations adopted the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, commonly known as the Mandela Rules. Among guidelines for accommodation, nutrition, humane treatment and non-discrimination, the Mandela Rules outline a standard for providing health care to prisoners. Rule 24, listed in the health care services section, states that “[t]he provision of health care for prisoners is a State responsibility. Prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community, and should have access to necessary health-care services free of charge without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status.”
How, then, do we provide adequate dental care to our prisoners in the United States? The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) Program Statement on the provision of dental services outlines the oral health care standards and procedures for inmates. The statement identifies the purpose and scope of the program as “[t]o stabilize and maintain the inmate population’s oral health. Dental care will be conservative, providing necessary treatment for the greatest number of inmates within available resources.”
Read the rest of this article in the January issue of Contour magazine.
~Jeannie Binder, Texas-Houston ’21, ASDA Contributing Editor