Starting the Conversation

Harvard Medical School

This past August, a nationwide prison strike commenced in the United States, with incarcerated people making a range of demands, from improvement in living conditions and wages to the end of lifetime sentences without parole. The strike reignited conversations among Harvard Medical students regarding how to best provide medical care among incarcerated populations.

Currently and formerly incarcerated patients may be treated at Harvard-affiliated hospitals, and some students may feel unprepared to care for these populations of patients. In recognition of this issue, HMS students organized a panel regarding the health effects of mass incarceration in September.

“We’re hoping to use this opportunity to start that conversation here,” said Parsa Erfani, a second-year MD student who helped organize the event. During his first year at HMS, Erfani interviewed an incarcerated patient and stated that he felt unequipped to adequately perform a nuanced history and physical.

Jessica Laird, also a second-year student in the MD program, gave a compelling 25-minute overview of mass incarceration at the event, providing information on its effect on physical and mental health, and suggesting alternatives to incarceration, such as abolition and restorative justice.

Laird gained experience working with incarcerated populations in Rhode Island while attending Brown University and she currently volunteers at the Nashua Street Jail in Boston through the Crimson Care Collaborative at HMS.

The panel was moderated by Avik Chatterjee, an HMS instructor and a primary care physician at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program, where he  cares for many patients who have a history of incarceration.

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