Helping Your Inmate Stay Healthy: Physical Health

There are many things to contend with when you have an incarcerated loved one. From writing letters and trying to keep funds on their account to help you stay connected with them, to continuing to live your life and put in the effort to strengthen your relationship in their absence – it can be frustrating. In spite of these challenges, it is vital not to overlook the importance of helping your inmate to maintain their physical health during their incarceration.


Right to Medical Care

The availability of medical care for inmates has progressed significantly in recent years. Prior to the 1960’s, legitimate medical care within institutions was hard to find. Through several court cases, it was determined that a lack of decent medical care constituted a violation of the 8th Amendment (cruel and unusual punishment). Several cases that occurred since that time have led to the establishment of inmate’s rights to adequate health care – meaning that they are required to have access to services that meet modern medical standards by a professionally trained provider. There are national organizations responsible for insuring these rights are maintained including the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) and the American Correctional Association (ACA).

The Importance of Good Health

With all that you are contending with, your inmate has a list of challenges of their own to deal with as well.  In the midst of all the stresses of being incarcerated, it is more important than ever that your inmate stay physically healthy. With a minimal amount of healthy food choices and a limited opportunity for regular exercise, it is easy for health problems to develop. Additionally, living in such tight quarters with other inmates can increase the chances of germ and infection exposure.


Medical Options

Each facility has an infirmary that is typically equipped to treat inmates for common sicknesses, wounds or infections. Also, most of them will work in conjunction with either the inmate’s outside physician or an internal physician to obtain prescriptions that are medically necessary for daily maintenance, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions, etc.  In some facilities, the inmate is allowed to have their physician come to the prison for a physical or check-up, but you should check directly with your inmate’s facility for more information.

There is typically a fee for an infirmary visit, but in most institutions the fee is minimal. In many smaller institutions, due to funding issues, infirmary visits are only possible one or two days a week and must be scheduled ahead of time. Because of the delay, your inmate should schedule a trip to the infirmary at the first sign of a serious illness or infection. The appointment can always be cancelled if not needed. You should encourage your inmate utilize the infirmary when necessary to maintain good physical health!


An Ounce of Prevention

Though there is nothing that can be done to improve the tight living spaces or the facility-provided meals, there are preventive measures your inmate can take to maintain good health. Here are a few suggestions for you to share with your inmate.

  • Encourage them to make healthier food selections from the commissary. Though there aren’t a lot of options, there are snacks that have lower sugar and salt content than others. A multitude of salty and sugary snacks could lead to health problems, including dental issues.
  • If available, ask your inmate to order multi-vitamins from the commissary. These are often found under the health and beauty category. Multi-vitamins can certainly help your inmate to build a stronger germ-defense system!
  • Suggest that your inmate order anti-bacterial soap from the commissary. Using an anti-bacterial soap can cut down on the likelihood of infection from other inmates.
  • Mention to your inmate that there are germ prevention items on the commissary. These items are vital in helping to eliminate the spread of germs to your inmate from others, and vice versa. Examples of these items are: a toothbrush holder, a soap dish and shower shoes.
  • Have your inmate keep available over-the-counter medications on hand. Though they will not help with germs, keeping items such as antacids and ibuprofen in supply can assist in minimizing symptoms until a trip to the infirmary can happen. In some cases, it could take several days to see the staff nurse.
  • Remind your inmate to get up and get moving! It is true that in many facilities, opportunities for exercise are minimal. In spite of this, encourage your inmate to move whenever it is possible. Even movement as simple as walking laps around the common area during free time, or doing a few pushups a couple of times a day, can benefit overall physical health.

Staying Connected

As always, it is key to stay connected to your inmate. Ask your loved one regularly about their health, as they may not bring any ailments up to you. Sometimes inmates may feel that complaining about their health symptoms can feel burdensome to their loved ones. Remind them that there are definitely ways to stay as healthy as possible while incarcerated and offer them encouragement on a regular basis to do so. We hope that the tips provided here will help you to help your inmate maintain good physical health.

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