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Healthcare Access & the Re-Entry Population

July 27, 2018

This month, we’re looking at the health access issues unique to people who are being released from the criminal justice system, who often need immediate access to care upon release.  PHAN has worked with women inside the Philadelphia jails at Riverside Correctional Facility, as well as with prisons across the state.  We also partner with Why Not Prosper, a resource and advocacy program for previously incarcerated women in Northwest Philadelphia.

We did a Q & A with one of our Community Engagement Specialists in Philadelphia, Joanna Rosenhein, to learn more about the communities she works with. 

Q. Why is it so important that folks being released from the criminal justice system get immediate access to care?

A. People being released from incarceration often have medical needs — things like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, or many other conditions– and many can’t afford to lose access to the medications or treatments they need, even for a few days.  This is particularly important for those suffering from substance abuse disorders, who may need to fill prescriptions for suboxone treatments, enter inpatient or outpatient programs, or receive other treatments for addiction.  Re-entry is already difficult, but people who can’t access the treatments they need are left in an incredibly vulnerable state.

Q. What are the challenges to getting access to care?

A. While incarcerated, folks receive care directly through the criminal justice system, but they need to make sure they’re enrolled in coverage – often Medicaid – for when they’re released.  We work with folks to walk them through that process.

Even if they begin the process of getting enrolled, there can be barriers to getting uninterrupted coverage.  For example, if a case is being transferred from another county, it can take up to 30 days for health benefits to become active.  This is too long for many people to wait to get treatments.

Q. What is the impact of going without care for the re-entry population?

A. The impact can be dire.  For many of the women we work with at Why Not Prosper who struggle with substance use, it can be a matter of hours or days before a relapse if their addiction is left untreated.  As a result, many women are left cycling in and out of the justice system without any hope of relief.

Without quick access to good healthcare healthcare, including substance use treatment, mental health services, and routine care, we’ve found that people in the re-entry population have trouble maintaining stable housing and finding or keeping a good job.  This puts them at risk of ending up back in the criminal justice system.

Want to get involved in our work with women being released from the criminal justice system?  Contact Joanna at joanna@pahealthaccess.org.