Public health will improve, experts in Texas and England conclude, if the mental and physical health of inmates is improved.
In their article, "The health of prisoners," Seena Fazel of the University of Oxford and Jacques Baillargeon of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, write that caring for the mental and physical health of prisoners has a direct and important impact on public health that should be recognized.
Their findings are based on a survey of available literature on prisoner health across the world (with most data from high-income countries*).
"Prisoners act as reservoirs of infection and chronic disease, increasing the public health burden of poor communities," they write.
"Most prisoners return to their communities with their physical and psychiatric morbidity occasionally untreated and sometimes worsened."
The authors note that "prisoners bear a substantial burden of physical and psychiatric disorders relative to the general population."
This health disparity has been attributed to various behavioral and socioeconomic conditions.
"For these individuals, prison provides an opportunity for diagnosis, disease management education, counseling and treatment they would not receive in the general community," they write.
The finding has been published Online First in the British medical journal The Lancet.