|Healthcare a Key Factor in Rehabilitation As Female Incarceration Rates Explode|
|By Albert Woodard , Chairman, CEO and President of Business Computer Applications (BCA)|
While women currently represent a small portion of the prison population their numbers are rising at an alarming rate, a trend that is having serious consequences for the children they leave behind and the communities where they lived.
The number of women incarcerated in the U.S. since 1990 has jumped an astounding 92 percent and its shows no sign of receding. In fact, according to a recent study at the Northeastern College of Criminal Justice, prison rates for women are increasing faster than for men, 92 percent to 67 percent respectively.
The reasons for this increase in women behind bars are numerous, ranging from their historical offenses of larceny, forgery, embezzlement and prostitution, and illegal drugs causing the most recent bump in the imprisonment numbers.
But it is the root causes that are far more disturbing, among them being a drop in high school graduation rates among women (particularly among young Black women), unemployment, and teenage pregnancies, all of which lead to poverty and thus to criminal activities.
The National Women’s Law Center says that girls are dropping out of school at dangerously high levels with one in four failing to graduate nationally and the numbers are even worse for Black females, with four in ten dropping out. Add to this the fact that the majority of babies born in 2011 were children of minorities, the percentage of babies born to unmarried women highest among teens, and that the unmarried birth rate among young Black females is an astounding 75 percent, and you have a recipe for disaster in communities that depend on how well their children are educated. The same study said that more than 70 percent of all women in prison have children. So what are the chances that a kid who doesn’t know his father and whose mother is incarcerated have to succeed? Not much, so the cycle keeps repeating itself.
If there is a bright spot in this dismal picture, it comes in the most unlikely of places, the prison system, where many of these young women end up. Rehabilitation of inmates is one of the most important goals of incarceration and the correctional system may well be the female inmate’s last best chance.
A number of studies have concluded that access to educational, vocational, and recreational programs, and particularly to healthcare, within the system may be a key to a better life upon a women’s release. And technology that is available throughout prison systems today in the form of electronic medical records (EMR) with its interoperability can help provide a continuity of care that was unavailable to these women in the past as well as managing and balancing costs to the institutions so everybody wins.
The period of incarceration, no matter how long or short, provides a window of opportunity to improve the health care of these women with state and local maternal and child health professionals among others assisting through partnerships to provide health services within correctional facilities as well as to arrange for follow-up in the community upon their release. EMRs give institutions access to the patient’s records no matter where the former inmate ends up.
A National Institute of Corrections (NIC) report identified a number of characteristics impacting female inmates that need to be addressed in order to put them on the road to rehabilitation with medical needs being number one, followed by drug and alcohol abuse, sexual and physical abuse and child and family relationships, which are all interrelated.
For many of these women a screening at a prison medical facility may be the first time they have ever undergone a physical examination, mental health screening, dental care, and other basic health care routines. The programs and counseling not only identify and help correct medical disorders, but encourage the inmates to continue a healthier path for themselves and any dependents they may have once released. This raises self esteem to a degree and helps aid in the avoidance of future criminal activity.
Poverty, high drop our rates in schools, unwed mothers and other behavioral root causes of criminal activity need to be addressed to stem this rising tide of female incarceration, but adoption of information technology among the prison system and community health care organizations is important in aiding communities to help guide its citizens along the right path.
(Woodard is Chairman, CEO and President of Business Computer Applications (BCA), an Atlanta-based IT healthcare company that provides EMR and practice management systems, scheduling, and case management information systems among others. BCA (www.bca.us) currently serves 300 healthcare sites, 5,000 physicians, and is the world’s largest telemedicine system outside of the Pentagon.)
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