A "prophetic" U.S. Surgeon General's report that warned of a coming crisis with mentally ill prisoners and prison health care in general, suppressed by the Bush administration, was only released in mid-2016.
The 2006 document, titled “The Surgeon General: Call to Action on Corrections and Community Health,” was prepared by then-Surgeon General Richard Carmona. It urged action by the government and community leaders to develop a treatment strategy for sick and addicted prisoners following their release, or face worsening public health care burdens.
The 49-page report recommended enhanced medical screenings for arrestees and their victims; better surveillance of diseases in prisons; and ready access to community-based medical, mental health and substance abuse prevention programs for released prisoners.
“The correctional health report is pointing out the inadequacies of health care within our correctional health care system,” Dr. Carmona said. “It would force the government on a course of action to improve that.”
However, as PLN reported at the time, the report was mothballed by the government and not publicly released. [See: PLN, Aug. 2007, p.6]. In recent years, PLN has also reported on the burgeoning population of prisoners who suffer from mental illness.
Substance abuse was cited as “the most prevalent ailment” among prisoners in the Surgeon General’s report, but it also found that mental illness was up to three times higher in U.S. prisons than in the general population. “The nation’s largest mental health facilities are in large urban jails,” the report stated.
“We deny the American public essential information that they need when this information is suppressed,” Dr. Carmona said in 2016, when the report was finally disclosed. “We missed an opportunity to take appropriate action to protect the public health.”
According to the former Surgeon General, the report was not publicly released because the Bush administration did not want to spend more money on prison health care.
“If this study had seen the light of day, there is no telling how much money would have been saved,” said Chicago’s Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. “This is why people have complete disgust with the way government operates.”
The “Surgeon General[’s] report was prophetic, to say the least,” added Ronald Serpas, a former Nashville and New Orleans police chief – particularly considering the increasing number of prisoners who have mental health and substance abuse problems.
Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today
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