Prisons do not usually provide health status updates on a prisoner. If your loved one is in prison, you need to talk to them directly. You may also be able to make other arrangements.
Will a prison notify me if my loved one is sick or injured in prison?
Not usually. In most cases, prison officials will not notify you about your loved one’s health. This is partly because of confidentiality. Prison doctors might not be legally allowed to tell you about their health. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (also known as “HIPAA”) laws restrict what information your loved one’s doctor can share. They may not even be able to share that information with other prison staff.
When would the prison notify me about my loved one’s health status?
Although prisons generally won’t tell you about your loved one’s health, here are several exceptions. The BOP lists a few situations in which a prison would need to tell someone outside the prison of the health status of a prisoner. :
- If a prisoner is seriously ill. The prison may decide there is reason for “immediate concern.” In that case, they will notify the prisoner’s designated next-of-kin.
- If you need to make a decision for your loved one. Sometimes prisoners can’t speak for themselves. Examples of this include if they are in a coma or precluded from doing so by a mental illness. They might still need to sign something like a release form. In that case, they will need someone to act as power of attorney. Unless your loved one chose someone else for this role, this is your responsibility as the next-of-kin.
- If a prisoner dies. In the unfortunate event that your loved one dies in prison, the prison will notify you. Most often, a chaplain or other community official calls you by phone in this circumstance.
There may be other times that you would get a health status update about a prisoner. However, that is up to the prison. There are no laws saying that they must update you.
How can you get updates about your loved one’s health status if they are a prisoner?
The best way to get updates about your loved one is to talk to them directly. But that’s not always possible. If they are ill, they may not be able to talk to you. In the moment, that can be frightening, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A few suggestions can help you get regular updates about your loved one:
- Create a communication routine with your loved one. Try to connect with your loved one on a regular schedule. For example, you might set aside time each week to talk on the phone. That way, if they miss your regular appointment, you will know that something is wrong. Routines like these are also a great way to help your loved one feel connected.
- Use the buddy system. Your loved one will likely have a few friends in prison. Ask them if one of them would make a good emergency contact. Get their full name and registration number. Make sure to contact that person to ask if your loved one is okay with that. That way, if you don’t hear from your loved one you can contact that person for an update. That person can also reach out if they know anything.
- Visit in person when you can. It’s one thing for your loved one to tell you how they are doing. But if you visit in person, you can see for yourself. Visit in person as often as you can. That will give you a chance to check in and confirm that your loved one is okay.
In general, staying in contact with your loved one is the best way for you to feel secure.
Prisons usually won’t update you on the health status of a prisoner. The only exceptions are if your loved one is seriously ill, needs you to act as their power of attorney or has died. To stay updated, you can set up regular communication with your loved one. You can also reach out to their friends and visit in person to check on them.