Healthcare & the Carceral System

Differential Diagnosis


Delivering lethal injections is an extreme example of how healthcare providers could be involved in the carceral system. However, there are many more common ways that we partake in this work. Think, for example about medical clearance or trauma care in the Emergency Department for patients under police custody, provision of obstetric care to pregnant inmates, and medical clearance exams for US immigration purposes.

Hyperincarceration, or the unequal and intensive incarceration of certain communities, has been described as a significant aspect of structural violence with real negative impacts on people’s health. The overlap between structural violence and healthcare disparities has been described by many. The justice system enters our clinic doors and hospital ward inpatient-provider interactions frequently: when we’re having trouble maintaining patient continuity for chronic disease, treating a new exposure to HIV, or providing counseling for the effects of trauma experienced during incarceration.