Addressing the scope and depth of harm that high incarceration rates impose on society requires a concerted strategic approach that addresses the full spectrum of causes and consequences of the incarceration crisis. Public health provides a useful frame in shaping this strategic approach, particularly in its conceptualization of primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention. Primary prevention entails actions to prevent a condition or disease from occurring (for example, a low sodium diet to prevent high blood pressure). Secondary prevention includes interventions that occur after the onset of a condition to mitigate its impact (for example, treating high blood pressure to prevent a stroke). Tertiary prevention encompasses rehabilitation effort, after a disease or condition has run its course to enable the individual to return to the greatest possible function (e.g., physical therapy to restore function after a stroke occurs). A comprehensive approach to address the harms of incarceration must include all three elements and, indeed, this frame is evident in the current Administration’s efforts to tackle this issue. Although a detailed review of Administration activities and proposals is beyond the scope of this commentary, below we include a number of examples of Administration policies and programs, Congressional initiatives, and other examples from the field that illustrate how such a framing can help ensure a comprehensive response. (Author abstract modified)
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