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Sesame Street Inspires Physicians to Advocate for Criminal Justice Reform

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Philadelphia, October 7, 2014 - The authors of an article being published in Annals of Internal Medicine say that physicians are getting a wake-up call about the effects of mass incarceration from an unexpected place: Sesame Street.

Currently, more than two million people are incarcerated in the United States - more than any other country in the world. The authors of "Sesame Street Goes to Jail: Physicians Should Follow" argue that while many people need to be in prison for the safety of society, a majority are incarcerated due to behaviors attributable to treatable diseases such as mental illness and addiction. The authors suggest policy changes that would allow doctors to steer eligible defendants into treatment programs rather than correctional facilities, when appropriate.

"Currently we have a model that puts punishment before treatment," said Scott Allen, MD, Clinical Professor and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of California, Riverside and a co-author on the paper. "The medical community really needs to get more involved in the public policy arena to develop alternatives to incarceration and put treatment before punishment where appropriate."

When incarceration is necessary, doctors and correctional medicine should coordinate transfer of patient care upon release so that any gains made during incarceration are not lost. They say that physicians also should be aware of social issues such as education, housing, race, and poverty because they can adversely affect health. These same issues also increase the risk of incarceration.

The authors were inspired to call physicians to action by Sesame Street's Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration initiative. A Muppet named Alex provides support and a voice for young kids, while the online toolkit provides caregivers with a range of materials to help guide children through the challenges associated with the incarceration of a loved one.

This is important, say the authors, because incarceration plays a role in health and health disparities for not only the person incarcerated, but also for their families.

About Annals of Internal Medicine
Published by the American College of Physicians (ACP), Annals of Internal Medicine is one of the most widely cited peer-reviewed medical journals in the world. Annals of Internal Medicine has a 2013 impact factor of 16.104, ranking it fifth out of 150 journals in the General & Internal Medicine category. The journal has been published for 88 years and accepts only about 7 percent of the original research studies submitted for publication. Get the latest news and information from the journal on Twitter and Facebook.