What Is Correctional Medicine?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 17 May 2019
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Correctional medicine refers to health care for people in prisons, jails, and similar institutions. Patients in these settings can have a number of special needs which are sometimes complicated by the fact that they need to receive treatment on site as much as possible. Specialists in this field may work directly for a correctional institution or could be employed by a firm that acts as a private contractor, offering services to numerous facilities. Doctors, nurses, orderlies, and other allied health professionals are all needed in correctional medicine.

One concern with this area of medicine is the management of preexisting conditions in correctional institutions. These can include diabetes, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), asthma, and other conditions prisoners may have upon entry. Prisons can also increase the rate of communicable diseases, requiring effective infection controls and action plans to handle outbreaks of hepatitis, respiratory infections, and food-borne illness that can develop in prisons.

Living in a correctional environment can create emotional and physical stress which may necessitate medical treatment. In some cases, underlying conditions may be exacerbated by incarceration. People with existing mental illness, for example, could experience episodes of depression, mania, or psychosis in prison, in which case they need treatment from mental health providers. Prevention of such issues is another aspect of correctional medicine, through measures like ensuring access to physical activity, group sessions to allow prisoners to mentor each other, and early intervention for people who appear to be in distress.


In some environments, correctional medicine can include the management of injuries after riots, beatings, and other episodes of violence. This may necessitate transport to a hospital facility for complex surgeries and other special needs. Transportation can also be required for pregnant female inmates when they go into labor, as many facilities lack labor and delivery wards. In these situations, specialists in correctional medicine balance the need for patient treatment with safety and security.

General practitioners as well as specialists can work in this field. Some belong to professional organizations that promote ethics and consistent treatment practices in correctional medicine. They may attend conferences, read trade journals, and take classes to develop professional skills and enhance their ability to treat patients humanely and effectively. Job openings can be found directly through medical departments at facilities that handle their own staffing needs, or in organizations that supply medical staff to jails and prisons. Specialists in correctional medicine can also be involved in activities like auditing detention centers for human rights violations and investigating claims of abuses in institutions.



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