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U.S. Surgeon General Pressured to Avoid Addressing Prison Health Care

On July 10, 2007, The New York Times reported that former U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, had testified that he was pressured by administration officials to suppress public health reports, including a study on medical care in the nation’s prisons. 

According to Dr. Carmona, who served as Surgeon General from 2002 to 2006, the government’s decision to delay or prevent the release of a report on prison medical care - as well as reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, global warming, mental health and global healthcare-related issues - was politically motivated.

A draft report by the Surgeon General’s office on prison health care is reportedly still being reviewed by government officials and has not been approved or published. “The correctional health care report is pointing out the inadequacies of health care within our correctional health care system,” stated Dr. Carmona. “It would force the government on a course of action to improve that.” 

Given the expense required for adequate prison health care, this is apparently something that the federal government doesn’t want to address, despite obvious public health concerns. “These people go back into the community and take diseases with them,” Dr. Carmona noted. “This is not about the crime. It’s about protecting the public.”

It isn’t unusual, however, for political considerations to trump public safety issues when it comes to criminal justice. Politicians and government officials have long benefited from “tough on crime” agendas while ignoring the myriad problems created by draconian sentencing laws, the war on drugs, overcrowded prisons that drain state budgets, disenfranchisement statutes which disproportionately impact minority communities, and so on.

Why should public health considerations be treated any differently? 

Source: The New York Times

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