Every inmate has a right to basic health care (RCW 72.10.005 ). The Department of Corrections (DOC) provides medically necessary health and mental health care to those incarcerated in DOC facilities, which includes all prisons.
The majority care is provided in clinics within prisons by over 800 healthcare professionals and support personnel. Health Services includes medical, mental health, dental, and pharmacy services. (Medications are governed by the DOC Pharmaceutical Management & Formulary Manual, and generic drugs are used when available.) All health services are provided in accordance with a) all applicable Department policies and the Health, Environmental, and Safety Standards established under RCW 43.70.130(8) . A copy of the Health Services Orientation Handbook is made available to all inmates.
Offender Health Plan
The Offender Health Plan (OHP) (also available in Español) describes the criteria and process for determining what health services the Department will provide to inmates and is approved by the Assistant Secretary for Health Services and the Chief Medical Officer (DOC Policy 600.000). To be covered by the OHP, services must be:
- Medically necessary
- Necessary for the health and safety of the incarcerated community for public health reasons
- Required by law, regulation, or Department policy
- Ordered by a Department health care practitioner
- Authorized according to Department policies and procedures
- Delivered in the most cost-effective manner and location consistent with safe, appropriate care
If a facility is unable to provide any of the services covered in the OHP, an inmate may be transferred to another facility to ensure access to the medically necessary services. Emergent and acute care beyond local capability is provided at community hospitals.
Extraordinary Medical Placement Reports
Per RCW 72.09.620 , the Department is statutorily required to provide annual reports to the legislature regarding inmates considered, granted, or denied extraordinary medical placement, and the cost savings realized by the state. Below is the most recent report provided to the legislature:
See Reports to the Legislature at the Washington State Legislature website for all previously submitted reports. (Select "72.09.620" using the RCW filter to quickly find previously submitted reports.)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- How can health care staff at a specific facility be contacted?
- How does a family member or friend get medical information about an inmate's treatment or medical condition?
- How does an inmate make an appointment with health care staff?
- Can our family physician be used to provide routine medical services to our inmate?
- What efforts are made to control contagious disease?
- What if the inmate needs specialized treatment?
- What if the inmate needs more than out-patient care?
- If an inmate is in a community hospital, can we visit or contact the hospital to find out about his/her condition?
- Can special visiting or telephone contact be made to provide reassurance?
- How are mental health services available?
- Who should be contacted if mental health care services are needed?
- What dental services are available?
- Are optometry services provided?
How can health care staff at a specific facility be contacted?
There is a Health Services number for each prison facility on the Contact webpage.
How does a family member or friend get medical information about an inmate's treatment or medical condition?
Every inmate may choose to personally share information with a family member or friend regarding his/her medical condition.
Health Services staff may not disclose any inmate health information unless they have express written permission given by the inmate on DOC 13-035 Authorization for Disclosure of Health Information (als available in Español). The inmate must indicate what information may be shared and exactly who it may be shared with.
How does an inmate make an appointment with health care staff?
When an inmate arrives at a Department facility an orientation is provided that describes the institution's particular procedure for requesting to see health care staff. Facilities use a combination of sick call for more urgent medical needs and written requests ("kites") to schedule more routine medical, mental health, and dental needs. Scheduled appointments show up on the daily "call out" and it is the responsibility of each inmate to monitor the call out to ensure they attend their health care appointments.
Every inmate also has the right to declare an emergency for immediate, emergent health care situations (to include mental health crisis) regardless of the time of day or night.
Can our family physician be used to provide routine medical services to our inmate?
No, but inmates are encouraged to have medical records forwarded to the institution's medical unit for review and inclusion in the medical file.
Medications may not be sent by family or other outside sources.
The Department does provide an opportunity for inmates to purchase health care services not available under the Offender Health Plan through a system called DOC Policy 600.020 Offender Paid Health Care.
What efforts are made to control contagious disease?
Inmates are screened for infectious disease upon arrival. Screening includes sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis, appropriate action is taken when problems are identified. Annual flu protocols are in place at each institution.
What if the inmate needs specialized treatment?
Many of the larger institutions have chronic care and other specialty services routinely available on-site.
For those that do not, when those types of services are medically necessary, DOC health care staff can refer inmates to community specialists. Specialty services include cardiology, orthopedics, oncology, general surgery, oral surgery, obstetrics and gynecology.
What if the inmate needs more than out-patient care?
Several institutions have on-site infirmaries that provide round the clock observation and care by licensed health care staff. When inmates require hospitalization, community hospitals are used.
If an inmate is in a community hospital, can we visit or contact the hospital to find out about their condition?
No. All information about medical status must be provided through the prison facility health services staff. Information provided will be very limited unless the inmate has signed a written consent form to release the information.
Hospitals, outside providers, and staff who are assigned to remain with the inmate, are advised in advance that they cannot provide family with information about the inmate and that the inmate cannot have visitors. This is to ensure the security of the public, hospital, other patients, and the inmate. If the family attempts to visit an inmate at the hospital, the inmate may be moved to another location for continued care.
In the event of critical illness (either in a DOC infirmary or at a community hospital), staff will notify the inmate's identified emergency contact of the inmate's health status.
Can special visiting or telephone contact be made to provide reassurance?
In cases of serious illness, special visits may be arranged through institution staff. Again, it is important that you do not attempt to visit or call an outside hospital without first receiving authorization through the institution.
How are mental health services available?
All major institutions and some of the smaller camps are staffed with mental health professionals and can provide outpatient mental health services.
All major institutions can provide temporary or short-term in-patient psychiatric care for crisis management and stabilization.
If higher level chronic care is required, it is provided in specialized residential mental health treatment units.
Who should be contacted if mental health care services are needed?
If you believe an inmate is having difficulties that require mental health treatment, you should encourage them to contact health care staff. You can also relay this information to your inmate's counselor.
If you believe an inmate has an emergency mental health need, or is seriously considering suicide, you should immediately contact the institution.
What dental services are available?
All inmates receive a dental examination at Intake. Dental care is prioritized first for emergent and urgent need. Less urgent dental needs covered by the Offender Health Plan are met as appointments become available.
No cosmetic or orthodontic services are provided.
Are optometry services provided?
Yes, contract optometry services are available at most major facilities.
The Department provides standard issue glasses to inmates with identified need and reading glasses are available for inmate purchase through the commissary.
Glasses sent in from the outside are subject to examination by medical/custody staff.