Do no harm

September 21, 2005

Attending to the health needs of prisoners presents an array of occupational and professional challenges. Hazards, some might say. Inmates aren't the most fit or healthy members of the population. An overwhelming majority have been involved in the drug trade, which puts them at significant risk for HIV/AIDS and other complications.

A recent Johns Hopkins public health study found that asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes were common among women at the state-run jail in Baltimore.

Prison inmates are entitled to decent medical care, and incarceration shouldn't be an impediment to their getting it. But in recent years, that too often has been the case for Maryland inmates, as documented by this newspaper and, most recently, a city grand jury.

In July, new health care providers took on this responsibility. They have an opportunity -- an obligation, in fact -- to show that treating prisoners can be done differently, humanely and according to best health practices.

The state's obligation is to ensure that these providers are living up to their contracts, expected to cost $110 million annually. In the past, it has fallen down on this essential job. Without proper oversight, neither the inmates' health nor the public's investment can be ensured.

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