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Health Services

Every incarcerated individual 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 ManualAdobe PDF File, 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 HandbookAdobe PDF File is made available to all incarcerated individuals.

Washington DOC Health Plan

The Washington DOC Health PlanAdobe PDF File (also available in Españoldocumento PDF de Adobe) describes the criteria and process for determining what health services the department will provide to incarcerated individuals and is approved by the Assistant Secretary for Health Services and the Chief Medical Officer (DOC 600.000Adobe PDF File). To be covered by the Washington DOC Health Plan, 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 Washington DOC Health Plan, an incarcerated individuals 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

An incarcerated individual, health services staff or a community member may submit an Extraordinary Medical Placement (EMP) referral to the EMP Coordinator using the EMP Electronic Referral Form. EMP Eligibility can be found in RCW 9.94A.728. Per RCW 72.09.620, the Department is statutorily required to provide annual reports to the legislature regarding incarcerated individuals 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.)

Incarcerated Individuals Deaths

The Washington Department of Corrections is responsible for the custody of approximately 19,500 incarcerated individuals in 12 correctional facilities and 14 reentry centers across the state. The department is dedicated to providing care and supervision for all incarcerated individuals, and provides access to appropriate levels of health care.

Many incarcerated individuals have not had regular access to any form of health care prior to being incarcerated. In addition, many of the individuals suffer from pre-existing conditions, such as substance abuse addiction and mental health issues, and chronic conditions, including diabetes and hypertension. The department provides health care, consistent with the Washington DOC Health Plan, which is medically necessary to respond to an incarcerated individual’s medical, dental, and mental health needs.

Incarceration does not deprive a person of his or her right to have information about individual health status protected from public records disclosures.

Cause of Death (CY 2016-2020)
Year Natural Accident Homicide Suicide Total Incarcerated Individual Population on December 31st
2016 24 2 0 2 28 17,474
2017 38 1 1 2 42 17,898
2018 34 1 0 2 37 17,656
2019 30 1 0 5 37 17,315
2020 43* 1 1 2 47 14,882
*includes deaths from COVID pandemic

Unexpected Fatalities

Per RCW 72.09.770, the department shall conduct an unexpected fatality review in any case in which the death of an incarcerated individual is unexpected, or any case identified by the Office of the Corrections Ombuds for review.

Upon conclusion of an unexpected fatality review, and within 120 days following the fatality, the department shall issue a report on the results of the review unless an extension has been granted by the governor. The department shall also develop an associated corrective action plan to implement any recommendations made by the review team in the unexpected fatality review report. The reports and corrective action plans must be posted and maintained on the department's public website within the specified statutory timeframes.

Unexpected Fatality Review Reports (600-SR001) and Corrective Action Plans (600-PL001)

Reports are organized by date of fatality. The report's associated corrective action plan is published alongside. These publications can also be found in the Publications Archive's Special Reports Required by Law section.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How can health care staff at a specific facility be contacted?

There is a Health Services number for each prison facility on the Contact Prisons webpage.

How does a family member or friend get medical information about an incarcerated individual's treatment or medical condition?

Every incarcerated individual may choose to personally share information with a family member or friend regarding his/her medical condition.

Health Services staff may not disclose any incarcerated individual health information unless they have express written permission given by the incarcerated individual on DOC 13-035 Authorization for Disclosure of Health InformationMS Word File (als available in EspañolDocumento de Microsoft Word). The incarcerated individual must indicate what information may be shared and exactly who it may be shared with.

How does an incarcerated individual make an appointment with health care staff?

When an incarcerated individual 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 incarcerated individual to monitor the call out to ensure they attend their health care appointments.

Every incarcerated individual 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 incarcerated individual?

No, but incarcerated individuals 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 incarcerated individuals to purchase health care services not available under the Washington DOC Health Plan through a system called DOC 600.020 Paid Health CareAdobe PDF File.

What efforts are made to control contagious disease?

Guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and Department of Health are followed.

Incarcerated individuals 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 incarcerated individual 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 incarcerated individuals to community specialists. Specialty services include cardiology, orthopedics, oncology, general surgery, oral surgery, obstetrics and gynecology.

What if the incarcerated individual 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 incarcerated individuals require hospitalization, community hospitals are used.

If an incarcerated individual 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 incarcerated individual has signed a written consent form to release the information.

Hospitals, outside providers, and staff who are assigned to remain with the incarcerated individual, are advised in advance that they cannot provide family with information about the incarcerated individual and that the incarcerated individual cannot have visitors. This is to ensure the security of the public, hospital, other patients, and the incarcerated individual. If the family attempts to visit an incarcerated individual at the hospital, the incarcerated individual 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 incarcerated individual's identified emergency contact of the incarcerated individual'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 incarcerated individual 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 incarcerated individual's counselor.

If you believe an incarcerated individual has an emergency mental health need, or is seriously considering suicide, you should immediately contact the institution.

What dental services are available?

All incarcerated individuals receive a dental examination at Intake. Dental care is prioritized first for emergent and urgent need. Less urgent dental needs covered by the Washington DOC 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 incarcerated individuals with identified need and reading glasses are available for incarcerated individual purchase through the commissary.

Glasses sent in from the outside are subject to examination by medical/custody staff.