By Michael Ollove
Joe Calderon faced uncomfortably high odds of dying after his release from a California prison in 2010.
According to one study, his chances of dying within two weeks — especially from a drug overdose, heart disease, homicide or suicide — were nearly 13 times greater than for a person who had never been incarcerated.
Despite suffering from hypertension during his 17 years and three days of incarceration, Calderon was lucky. He stumbled onto a city of San Francisco program that paid for health services for ex-offenders, and he was directed to Transitions Clinic, which provides comprehensive primary care for former prisoners with chronic illnesses. The clinic saw to all his health needs in the months after his release.
An increasing number of states are striving to connect released prisoners like Calderon to health care programs on the outside. Frequently, that means enrolling them in Medicaid and scheduling appointments for medical services before they are released.
Some state programs — in Massachusetts and Connecticut, for example — provide help to all outgoing prisoners. Programs in some other states are more targeted. Those in Rhode Island and New York, for instance, focus on ex-offenders with HIV or AIDS.
Elsewhere, probation and parole are being used to encourage ex-offenders to adhere to certain treatments. Utah, for example, passed a measure this year that cuts probation time for former prisoners if they get treatment for mental illness or substance abuse.
The goal of these programs isn’t just to address the health needs of a notoriously unhealthy population, but to improve the likelihood they will succeed in society.
“We want to support them as much as possible to make sure they are productive and do not return to prison,” said Dr. Shira Shavit, executive director of Transitions. Continue reading