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The healthcare utilization of people in prison and after prison release: a population-based cohort study in Ontario, Canada


Background — Many people experience imprisonment each year, and this population bears a disproportionate burden of morbidity and mortality. States have an obligation to provide equitable healthcare in prison and to attend to care on release. Our objective was to describe healthcare utilization in prison and post-release for persons released from provincial prison in Ontario, Canada in 2010, and to compare healthcare utilization with the general population.

Methods — We conducted a population-based retrospective cohort study. We included all persons released from provincial prison to the community in 2010, and age- and sex-matched general population controls. We linked identities for persons released from prison to administrative health data. We matched each person by age and sex with four general population controls. We examined ambulatory care and emergency department utilization and medical-surgical and psychiatric hospitalization, both in prison and in the three months after release to the community. We compared rates with those of the general population.

Results — The rates of all types of healthcare utilization were significantly higher in prison and on release for people released from prison (N = 48,861) compared to general population controls (N = 195,444). Comparing those released from prison to general population controls in prison and in the 3 months after release, respectively, utilization rates were 5.3 (95% CI 5.2, 5.4) and 2.4 (95% CI 2.4, 2.5) for ambulatory care, 3.5 (95% CI 3.3, 3.7) and 5.0 (95% CI 4.9, 5.3) for emergency department utilization, 2.3 (95% CI 2.0, 2.7) and 3.2 (95% CI 2.9, 3.5) for medical-surgical hospitalization, and 21.5 (95% CI 16.7, 27.7) and 17.5 (14.4, 21.2) for psychiatric hospitalization. Comparing the time in prison to the week after release, ambulatory care use decreased from 16.0 (95% CI 15.9,16.1) to 10.7 (95% CI 10.5, 10.9) visits/person-year, emergency department use increased from 0.7 (95% CI 0.6, 0.7) to 2.6 (95% CI 2.5, 2.7) visits/person-year, and hospitalization increased from 5.4 (95% CI 4.8, 5.9) to 12.3 (95% CI 10.1, 14.6) admissions/100 person-years for medical-surgical reasons and from 8.6 (95% CI 7.9, 9.3) to 17.3 (95% CI 14.6, 20.0) admissions/100 person-years for psychiatric reasons.

Conclusions — Across care types, healthcare utilization in prison and on release is elevated for people who experience imprisonment in Ontario, Canada. This may reflect high morbidity and suboptimal access to quality healthcare. Future research should identify reasons for increased use and interventions to improve care.



Kouyoumdjian FG, Cheng SY, Fung K, Orkin AM, McIsaac KE, Kendall C, Kiefer L, Matheson FI, Green SE, Hwang SW. PLoS One. 2018; 13(8):e0201592. Epub 2018 Aug 3.

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