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Right to health care: Prisons and jails

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American society already recognizes certain privileges to health care. Considering these would make a good start to a discussion of whether there is a right to universal health care (UHC).

Health care in prisons and jails

Jail inmates who suffer medical emergencies are entitled to receive care, and prisoners also receive basic medical care for chronic conditions while in custody. In some cases, the health care offered by prisons is considered to be quite good. When prisons fail to provide adequate care, the federal government may step in to make sure it is available, as it did in California in 2005; there may also be lawsuits, such as those beleaguering the contractor Prison Health.

There has been some discussion of charging inmates for care they receive while in custody, but no serious programs that do so (to the best of my knowledge). Since inmates are by and large indigent (being unable to work for an income outside the prison), charging them for services seems rather nonsensical.

Arguments for providing care to inmates include the obvious, that their incarceration makes it impossible for them to seek care themselves, as well as the practical, that providing care helps prevent outbreaks of disease. But do they have a right to it?

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artfulfrog said...
May 15, 2008 at 12:19 PM  

I don't think that they should be given health care if they don't need it. If someone was in dire need of medical care,then i suppose that would be fine. But i don't think they need some of the things they are given in jail(I know this is a whole another case).

Since when has jail become a resort? I thought it was to make them pay for what they did,not to get free medical help.

Milehimama said...
May 15, 2008 at 1:36 PM  

My SIL is in prison. The inmates are charged for going to the doc (who is bottom-of-the-barrel - what doc would work there unless they HAD to?)

She is charged $5 for a visit, and $3 for each prescription, which doesn't sound like much until you know that they are paid 20-38 cents per hour for the work they do (laundry, cooking, jail-related tasks). They also have to purchase any "extras" such as envelopes, paper, stamps, soap, shampoo, etc. at going market rates.

Are there "Club Med" jails? Yes. But most aren't like that. I think that inmates have the same right to life as anyone else - and that includes very basic healthcare.

The fifth commandment - Thou shalt not kill - also encompasses the care of our body, the temple of the Holy Spirit. We cannot refuse "reasonable" care, in most circumstances.

The real debate is, what is reasonable care? And, if it is our inalienable right, does that mean the government has to provide healthcare, or simply ensure unencumbered access to it?

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