The Gwinnet County Sheriff’s Office is one of the first law enforcement agencies in the country to offer inmates released from prison or jail access to health insurance.
Sheriff Keybo Taylor announced the rollout of the program at a press conference earlier this year, and has recently opened one of its kiosks at the Gwinnet County Detention Center.
The Re-Entry Health Insurance Program as it’s called is designed to allow inmates recently released from jail, prison or halfway houses access to health insurance as they transition back into society.
“Guiding residents towards medical insurance is another key component to the criminal justice reform. Individuals transitioning out of incarceration often include adults with significant mental health and physical needs that also experience social and economic challenges,” Sheriff Taylor said.
Officials with the sheriff’s office told the Gwinnet Daily Post that the program is intended to reduce recidivism by giving former inmates access to healthcare. They assert that around half of incarcerated people suffer with mental health issues or substance abuse problems that require treatment from medical professionals.
According to officials, health insurance plans can in some cases cover substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling and domestic violence screening, as well as offering child medical insurance support.
Taylor said that by targeting these issues, former inmates can bring stability and control to their lives.
“Getting medical insurance promotes greater stability in their lives and ultimately reducing the recidivism rate,” Taylor said. “We are pushing to help as many people as possible and be a trailblazer for surrounding agencies to do the same thing.”
Brendan Spaar, the vice president of the Greater Gwinnett Area Re-entry Alliance, asserted that greater access to health care will contribute to the rehabilitation process of inmates, and that currently there isn’t enough support for transitioning inmates to access or afford health insurance.
“It’s because of cost. There aren’t many nonprofits in the area that are giving the health services away for free so there is a cost component. A lot of times, it’s covered by health insurance but then you have the catch-22. You’ve been released, you need these resources for mental health treatment, but you can’t afford them, so it’s kind of a vicious cycle,” he said.
Spaar hopes that opening a kiosk right in the sheriff’s office will send the message that the agency is there to support former inmates reintegrate back into the community.