Analyzing the burden of America’s prison health care problem

A 2021 survey reveals 40% of state and 33% of federal prisoners reported having a chronic condition.

Stock photo of a prison.

Life expectancy in the U.S. is low compared to other developed nations. On average, Americans are expected to live until the age of 76 — compared to China at 78, the United Kingdom at 80, Canada at 81 and Japan at 84.

While 76 represents the average life expectancy age of Americans, many in the nation don’t get to reach that milestone — especially those incarcerated. Thousands of people die every year in American prisons, and sometimes costs taxpayers money in the form of lawsuits.

In 2021, a Connecticut correctional facility was sued for $1.6 million because a 19-year-old woman died after not getting proper care for lupus. In Washtenaw County, a healthcare company was sued because an inmate was overdosed by medical staff. In 2019, a woman in a Nevada jail vomited and asked to go to the hospital. She was given a mop instead and died less than an hour later in her cell. The woman’s family settled a lawsuit for $2 million.

Dr. Emily Wang of Yale University joined Detroit Today to discuss the ongoing problem of the U.S. prison system failing to provide quality health care to prisoners.

Listen: Why U.S. inmates continue to receive poor health care


Dr. Emily Wang is a professor of medicine and of public health at Yale University. She is also the director of the SEICHE Center for Health and Justice, and director of the health justice lab. Wang recently won a MacArthur Award for her work to improve the health of those affected by mass incarceration. She says barriers to proper healthcare prevent incarcerated individuals and returning citizens from being healthy.

“The discrimination, the stigma that we have around mass incarceration, not only is it existing in our employment sector and our housing sector, but also it exists in our healthcare sector,” says Wang.

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  • Detroit Today

    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.

  • Sam Corey

    Sam Corey is a producer for Detroit Today on 101.9 WDET, which includes finding and preparing interesting stories for radio. He enjoys salsa dancing — and actual salsa.