Warren J. Ferguson, MD
UMass Medical School criminal justice health expert Warren J. Ferguson, MD, calls on academic health science centers to address the effect of criminal justice involvement on public health through research, training and clinical care in a lead commentary that he co-authored in a special issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.
“The authors believe that academic health science centers and governmental organizations concerned with health care, health training and health services research have equal responsibilities to address the American mass incarceration phenomenon in the U.S.,” wrote Dr. Ferguson and co-authors. Ferguson is professor of family medicine & community health, director of academic programs for UMass Medical School’s Health and Criminal Justice Program and chair of the Academic Consortium on Criminal Justice Health. “Unless more multidimensional justice and health care reforms are offered, the efforts to prevent recidivism, to reduce health disparities and to mitigate the economic and societal consequences of incarceration will be lost.”
The number of people incarcerated in the United States in the past 40 years has risen 700 percent, a rate that is seven times greater than in most developed Western European countries, according to the commentary in the May edition of the journal. More than 80 percent of arrests are directly or indirectly connected to drug or alcohol abuse and more than 15 percent of inmates have mental illness. In addition, 30 to 40 percent have chronic medical conditions, including infections from drug injections.
The authors urge the collaboration of academic health science and academic criminal justice institutions to address what they term “one of the country’s most vexing crises.” A 2004 call for collaboration between the criminal justice system and academic institutions led to the first Academic and Health Policy Conference on Correctional Health in 2007 and the formation of the Academic Consortium on Criminal Justice Health, both founded by Ferguson and supported by UMass Medical School.