Cancer Care in the Prison System: Exploring Cancer Treatment for Inmates

Inmates with chronic health conditions can often face difficulties when it comes to receiving care in prison. Since there are different legal stipulations for prisoners, navigating prison healthcare can be overwhelming, to say the least. From jurisdiction to jurisdiction, prison healthcare can vary in both quality and availability, so it’s important to know what an inmate’s rights are as well as how to find them the care they need to survive behind bars.

Where is the inmate housed?

Before you can look into what care is available for an inmate, it’s important to know where they’ve been jailed since regulations vary so wildly. If you’re fairly certain of where an inmate is being held, you can reach out to the prison directly to learn more about their care standards and what facilities and treatment options they have available to prisoners. Otherwise, your best bet might be to use a federal inmate locator. As long as the inmate has been processed and transferred to a permanent facility, you should be able to access updated information about their facility.

Using this information, look through the local department of corrections website to see if you can glean any information about the prison’s healthcare. Since prisoners are often largely unable to actively advocate for their own healthcare, it may fall to you to learn more about the specific prison, what care options are available, and how to go about requesting necessary treatments.

Determining Care Standards

This is one of the most difficult aspects of the prison care system as each facility is different. Prisons can vary from state to state and county to county. One prison may offer updated healthcare and screenings like the Ezra MRI scan which is a much less invasive screening, while another may be reticent to address the complaints of an “asymptomatic” patient. With any luck, the inmate is housed in a facility that offers modern technology and takes healthcare concerns very seriously. However, it still stands that very few prison nurses are trained oncology specialists and many common symptoms, such as pain, aren’t taken seriously, leading to delays in treatment.

Your best method of determining care standards in a facility is through a conversation with the inmate. Are their medical requests being taken seriously? Are they being seen by a specialist to address their diagnosis and determine the next steps? Have they experienced any neglect that could negatively impact their prognosis? By asking thoughtful questions, you’re better able to assess the level of cancer treatment an inmate is receiving and take the proper next steps.

Consider Legal Counsel

If any of your questions yielded unsavory answers, it may be time to apply pressure from the outside. Note that this isn’t always an effective method since many prisoners sue jailers with relative frequency, whether or not they have just caused. However, if an inmate is going untreated or is experiencing extreme symptoms that aren’t being addressed, it’s important to intervene, especially if they’ve been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

Many lawyers and prisoner advocate resources offer free consultations to determine the validity of a case and advise you on how to proceed. If there is a clear case of mistreatment or neglect, a lawsuit may be able to improve a prisoner’s outcome. In some cases, acquiring evidence can be difficult, so keep the strongest records that you can.

A cancer diagnosis is hard enough on its own—suffering from cancer in the prison system, away from friends and loved ones are even harder. With inconsistent care standards, it’s important to do your best to remain positive in a difficult situation. With any luck, the inmate will receive the care they need and deserve.