Reflecting on Behind Bars: Ethics and Human Rights in U.S. Prisons

This is the first of a handful of posts and commentaries that I will post arising out of the Prison Conference called “Behind Bars:  Ethics and Human Rights in US Prisons.”  In it, Gali Katznelson nicely highlights some of the presentations and many of the issues that were raised over the course of the 2 day conference.

Reflecting on Behind Bars: Ethics and Human Rights in U.S. Prisons



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The urgent need to recognize and value academic labor

Two Harvard professors share their thoughts on the latest from the US Republican Party’s tuition waiver tax plan.

The post appears in Nature here:

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What Do Medical Students Know?

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Behind Bars: Ethics and Human Rights in U.S. Prisons

Behind Bars: Ethics and Human Rights in U.S. Prisons
November 30 – December 1, 2017
Harvard Medical School Campus, Boston, MA

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The United States leads the world in incarceration. The “War on Drugs” and prioritizing punishment over rehabilitation has led to mass imprisonment, mainly of the nation’s most vulnerable populations: people of color, the economically disadvantaged and undereducated, and those suffering from mental illness. Although these social disparities are striking, the health discrepancies are even more pronounced. What can be done to address this health and human rights crisis?

This conference will examine various aspects of human rights and health issues in our prisons. In collaboration with educators, health professionals, and those involved in the criminal justice system—including formerly incarcerated people, advocates, and law enforcement—the conference will clarify the issues, explore possible policy and educational responses, and establish avenues for action.

This conference is open to the public. Registration is required to attend. There is a $50 refreshment fee to offset costs for meals during the conference, and to reduce waste. If this fee would prevent you from attending, please contact the Center for Bioethics at 617-432-2570 for assistance with your registration.

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The Difficulties of Obtaining Needed Care if You have Medicaid

I was interviewed by a reporter from Kaiser Health News who wrote this excellent piece about the difficulties of obtaining needed mental health care for those with Medicaid:.

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Vermont Governor is Deciding Whether to Sign on to Legalizing Marijuana

I am in favor of legalizing marijuana–and, in fact, all drugs–and was interviewed for this piece on Vermont Public Radio about my opinion on this issue.

Would decriminalization lead to huge rates of drug abuse?  I doubt it because of what happened in Portugal, where drug use was decriminalized in 2001.  After that, instead of being thrown in jail, drug users were offered access to treatment and rehab. The result was that a decade later, drug abuse was cut in half.  Among Portuguese teens in grades 10 through 12, lifetime prevalence rates of marijuana use decreased from 26% in 2001 to 19% in 2006.  Additionally, the medical problems associated with illicit drug use–such as Hep C and HIV infections–dropped instead of increased.

By legalizing marijuana we would automatically lower the crime rates, lower rates of incarceration (which overwhelmingly affect minorities here in the US–see the documentary 13th (5 star rating by me–must see!)), and could use the tax dollars from drug sales to promote public health programs and drug awareness programs.

I have heard more than once from DEA agents and their surrogates that the war on drugs is a farce, doesn’t work and that they in full support of my call for legalizing drugs.

PS  I think this is where I am supposed to say these opinions are my own and not those of any institution with which I am affiliated.  Done–this is true.


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Search for mental health care for children is often fruitless

The Boston Globe reported our story on its front page this week.  This study was conducted by colleagues at CHA and myself and required scores of hours to make the phone calls, tabulate our data, and then prepare the manuscript.  The paper was rejected by at least a half dozen journals before it was accepted.  So delighted it received this coverage about such an important topic.  As I told a colleague, sadly we were merely documenting what anyone who has ever tried to obtain needed mental health care for a child already knows.

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Is Torture Effective and Can It Be Justified?

Radio interview in Great Britain about torture with discussant Professor Jeffrey Addicott and myself.

Torture only serves to bring us down to the level of our worst, immoral enemies.  It also goes against every international code of ethical conduct and many international agreements we’ve signed.

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Letter to our Patients in Support of Basic Human Rights and Access to Health Care

Colleagues and I have written a letter in support of access to health care and human rights more generally.  Please feel free to sign the letter and, as importantly, forward the letter to all of your colleagues.

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Vote Yes on 4 in MA–Time to Legalize Cannabis

We need to legalize marijuana and begin regulating and taxing it. Here is a piece covering a press conference yesterday morning on the step of the State House in Boston in support of legalizing marijuana.  Marijuana is far from safe–whether someone is underage with a still-developing brain or a mature adult who still needs to drive home–but legalizing it is far overdue.  Do we really want to continue to jail users or have kids see the police as the enemy?



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