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With the implementation of the United States’ first national health care system quickly approaching, the Affordable Care Act’s effects will soon be seen throughout the country. Mandating that all eligible citizens of the U.S. have health insurance, the law brings hope that access to multidimensional levels of care will cultivate a healthier country. 

A justice-involved patient receiving treatment at San Quentin’s emergency room.

Ray Chavez|Flicker Creative Commons

The impact that the ACA will have on communities is anticipated to vary state-by-state, population-by-population. Justice-involved youth and adults in particular, are often under nurtured and deprived of the health care benefits included in mainstream society. With the inauguration of the ACA in January 2013, they will lawfully be given the opportunity to reap the benefits of accessing extensive health care. Currently, justice-involved individuals’ predominate care is received while in jail or prison, but upon reentry into the community many are left with no options for continued coverage. This often results in a termination of prescriptions and mental health services.

The imperativeness of offering health care to people involved in the justice system stems from the fact that this population is more likely than the general public to have behavioral problems, mental health issues, and addictive behaviors, as well as communicable diseases and chronic illnesses. Each year roughly 9 million adults circulate through the system and 750,000 of them are released or placed on parole. Of these individuals, 40% of men and 60% of women suffer from these conditions with limited possibility of receiving on-going treatment, screening, or direction. Many of them are forced to return to the same environment in which their crimes were committed. The outcome of this course leads to harmful interpersonal influences, drug access, and violence, which disproportionally makes them subject to repetitive criminal activity. Without access to the services provided by health care, these individuals face congested paths toward recovery.

The ACA brings solid hope through a variety of avenues. Pre-trial and pre-release transition planning that embraces assistance in determining eligibility, enrolling newly eligible persons in Medicaid or other health plans in the Exchange, and orchestrating proactive relationships with local health care providers could be the ideal equation to permanently reducing recidivism.

This is an important aspect of the law, as it is predicted that this process will lower the number of people cycling through the criminal justice system due to behaviors stemming from addiction and mental health, reduce correctional health care costs, and lower racial disparities seen within the criminal justice system.

The courts and corrections agencies must be chief advocates to regulate the dialogue and decision making related to ACA implementation at the state and local level. Through the ACA, practitioners can ensure that this law will be a vital resource in the lives of the people that have been swept into the justice system due to unmet health needs. If justice administrators can successfully adopt this process, the ambitious goals of the ACA will be felt within each local jurisdiction, resulting in a healthier and safer California.