Correctional Medical Care for Female Prisoners: Legal Issues Surrounding Inadequate Treatment of Chronic and/or Preexisting Health Conditions

AuthorChelsi Lamberton,Michael S. Vaughn
Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Correctional Medical
Care for Female
Prisoners: Legal Issues
Surrounding Inadequate
Treatment of Chronic
and/or Preexisting
Health Conditions
Chelsi Lamberton
and Michael S. Vaughn
Research shows incarcerated women suffer more chronic and/or preexisting
health conditions than their male counterparts. Through the lens of federal
court litigation pursuant to Title 42 U.S. Code Section 1983, this article dis-
cusses women who brought legal challenges, questioning the adequacy of
correctional medical care rendered to their chronic and preexisting health
conditions. Case law reveals several trends, including multiple disease co-
morbidities, malingering, medication administration, free-world specialty
care, diagnostic and treatment limitations, and mental illness. The article
concludes with policy implications, suggestions for future research, and rec-
ommendations for accelerated research on the chronic and/or preexisting
health conditions of female prisoners.
women prisoner health care, correctional health care forwomen, correctional
medical care, inmate litigation
University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA
Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Michael S. Vaughn, Sam Houston State University Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology,
Institute for Legal Studies in Criminal Justice, 816 17
St., PO Box 2296, Huntsville, TX 77341,
The Prison Journal
2022, Vol. 102(4) 493514
© 2022 SAGE Publications
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00328855221109824
Due to mass incarceration, truth-in-sentencing laws, three strikes statutes, and
mandatory minimum sentences, the United States has seen a precipitous rise
in female prisoners (McConnell, 2017). Incarcerating more female prisoners
places a strain on correctional health care services because women have
unique health needs that require different care than men (Marquis, 2018).
Compared to free-world women, female inmates suffer disproportionately
from serious and chronic illnesses (Eliason et al., 2004). Specif‌ically, research
shows that female inmates have a substantially higher burden of chronic
medical and psychiatric disorders thanmale prisoners (Binswanger et al.,
2010, p. 479). These health problems are often comorbid, as female
inmates frequently have multiple chronic co-occurring mental (Facer-Irwin
et al., 2019) and physical illnesses (Bai et al., 2015). Chronic conditions
also adversely impact female inmates at a younger age than those in the free-
world, as studies have shown thatdue to pains of imprisonment and lifestyle
diseasesincarcerated individuals are physiologically older than their chro-
nological age (Andersen & Nielsen, 2016; Williams et al., 2012).
Despite female offender populations rising faster than any other demo-
graphic, and considering that the average age of incarcerated women is also
increasing, there has been little research on the care of chronic and/or preex-
isting illnesses in female correctional facilities (Harzke & Pruitt, 2018;
Lemieux et al., 2002). Available research shows, however, that women
enter incarceration with a multitude of preexisting illnesses and dispropor-
tionately suffer from chronic illnesses (Lindquist & Lindquist, 1999). The
most common reported chronic illnesses among this population include arthri-
tis, hepatitis, hypertension, asthma, cancer, diabetes, kidney problems, and
heart conditions (Binswanger et al., 2010; Leigey & Hodge, 2012). While
it is well-documented that incarcerated women are a high-risk population
with serious health concerns, studies on the care of chronically ill female
inmates show that chronic care is inadequate (Dinkel & Schmidt, 2014;
Harner & Riley, 2013). Mental health among female prisoners is also a
concern, with one study estimating that 75% of female inmates with behav-
ioral problems possessed multiple mental comorbidities (Blitz et al., 2005).
In short, researchers conclude that incarcerated women are particularly dis-
advantaged and ill compared with their male counterparts(Binswanger et al.,
2010, p. 479).
This article focuses on female prisoners who possess chronic and/or preex-
isting health conditions. Through the lens of federal court intervention pursu-
ant to lawsuits under Title 42 U.S. Code Section 1983, the article discusses
the emerging problem of co-morbidities among females incarcerated in the
494 The Prison Journal 102(4)

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