About the Center

Background: Crisis in Criminal Justice and Public Health Systems

A complex array of laws, policies and practices has resulted in an epidemic of incarceration and recidivism in the countryís criminal justice system that has adversely impacted millions of individuals, the majority of whom suffer from addiction, substance use, and/or mental illness. The failure of the countryís public health system to provide adequate access in the community to appropriate care and treatment for individuals suffering from these and other illnesses and diseases intersects with their actual and (in the case of mental illness) effective criminalization to produce a complex public health and human rights crisis in both correctional and other criminal justice settings as well as in the generally poor, economically vulnerable communities from which criminal justice populations predominantly come and to which the vast majority will return. Significant racial and socio-economic disparities in health and health care outcomes in these populations and communities underscore the breadth and depth of the crisis.


The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights seeks to improve the health and human rights of criminal justice populations through education, research, and advocacy.


The Center strives to translate world-class research describing best practices that effectively address different dimensions of the public health and human rights crisis affecting criminal justice populations into sustainable laws, policies and practices. A key component of this effort is the education of policy and opinion makers, health professionals, and the general public about the multiple, interlocking dimensions and impact of the crisis on the individuals, families, and communities directly affected and on society in general. The Center advances its goals by harnessing the passion and interdisciplinary skills and training of its members who include doctors and health care professionals; faculty, researchers, and students from a variety of disciplines and institutions; lawyers, community activists, and others who are dedicated to shaping and effecting the interdisciplinary, multi-layered response that this crisis demands.

Center Priorities

The Centerís priorities are determined by the Centerís directors, Center members and volunteers, the Centerís Board of Advisors, and the Centerís Executive Director. Factors for determining priorities include the importance of the topic to advancing the Centerís mission, and the ability to match perceived needs required to effectively address the topic with resource availability.

The Centerís priorities are:
  • To bring attention to the health and healthcare issues and challenges of prisoners and other criminal justice populations.
  • To improve the continuum of care for prisoners from admission to a correctional facility through release, including improving healthcare access and opportunities for criminal justice populations in the community.
  • To advance policies and programs that promote both public health oriented approaches to mental illness, addiction, and substance use and [alternatives to][less reliance on] incarceration and the criminal justice system.
  • To engage students and health professionals in the Centerís mission with training and education opportunities, and by providing students with practical experiences working directly on concrete issues, problems, and challenges.