Prevalence of Chronic Health Conditions Among Adults Released From the North Carolina Prison System, 2015-2016

N C Med J. 2019 Nov-Dec;80(6):332-337. doi: 10.18043/ncm.80.6.332.


BACKGROUND In the United States each year nearly 570,000 people return from state prisons to the community. Prevalence data of chronic health problems for this population are lacking, impeding planning of health care programs to serve people with chronic conditions who are re-entering the community.METHOD We used medication dispensing records as a proxy for diagnoses in assessing the prevalence of 10 major and 20 substituent health conditions among incarcerated people released from the North Carolina state prison system from July 2015 through June 2016.RESULTS Among 20,585 released people, 13% were female; 50% were black; 43% were white; and 4% were aged 55 years or older. Thirty-three percent had ≥ 1 condition and 13% had two or more. The prevalence of chronic health conditions was the following: psychiatric, 15%; cardiovascular, 15%; neurologic, 7%; pulmonary, 6%; diabetes mellitus, 3%; and infectious, 3%. Seventy-one percent of those aged 55 years or older had a chronic medical condition. Among those with a psychiatric condition, 56% had another chronic illness.LIMITATIONS We could not identify unmedicated health conditions; medications prescribed across multiple disease categories were excluded from our analysis.CONCLUSION In North Carolina, at least one in three people released from the state prison system had a chronic health condition, and among those with psychiatric conditions, most had comorbid medical disease. Coordination of health care after release from incarceration is essential to avoid preventable complications and unnecessary utilization of acute care services. Greater eligibility for Medicaid is needed to scale up transition programs for this population.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*