Affordable Health Care Act: An Unexpected Prison Reform Measure?
Date:  03-13-2014

Eligibility for mental health and substance abuse treatment seen as a way to reduce recidivism
On March 10, 2014 Newsweek published an article by Elijah Wolfson that has many prison reform advocates, along with mental health and substance abuse professionals, if not jumping for joy, then at least optimistic. In what Wolfson calls “a happy public policy accident,” the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) has the potential to provide treatment to thousands of the “justice-involved population” with mental health and/or substance abuse issues, which can effectively lower recidivism rates and save untold millions of dollars.

Wolfson notes that the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 64 percent of inmates present with a mental health issue within a year prior to arrest or on the day they when they are booked. He added that the National Institute of Health claims that 69 percent of American inmates had a substance abuse problem before they went to prison or jail.

While inmates often get medical attention while incarcerated, Wolfson writes that 5.4 million formerly incarcerated individuals are now eligible for healthcare under the ACA. But, he warns, “Even with coverage, those ex-offenders will still need to actually utilize those health benefits, and the key will be making the connection at the time of release. The biggest challenge will be getting state justice systems and health systems – not exactly happy bedfellows in past years – to work together to create coordinated discharge planning between jails and community healthcare.”

To read Wolfson’s informative Newsweek article click here to go to website.