Behind Bars: Life and Death for Inmates in the Age of COVID-19
A Lecture by Homer Venters, MD, MPH
The Medical Humanities, Arts, and Ethics Series


The theme guide for this event is available HERE.

COVID-19 has made clear a simple truth that had eluded medical thinking for years: incarceration harms health. As the novel coronavirus sweeps across the country, it causes thousands of preventable infections and numerous deaths among prison and jail staff and detained people alike.

As Chief Medical Officer for New York City’s jails, physician, epidemiologist, and human rights advocate Homer Venters learned firsthand that incarceration drives adverse health outcomes not only for the people who are detained but also for those who work in correctional settings and who live in the surrounding communities. When basic rights—not just to healthcare but to life itself—are repeatedly violated; when core values, such as caring and respect, are disregarded; and when a healthcare system lacks transparency, the results can be tragic. Dr. Venters shared this message nationally in his gripping 2019 book, Life and Death in Rikers Island.

With attention on the coronavirus tragedy, Dr. Venters is urging physicians and public health officials to join efforts to achieve long-term improvements in prison healthcare, and to promote accountability and decarceration. His commitment to protecting his patients and his stories of their struggles—and of the ethical dilemmas that confront prison doctors—will move and inspire you.

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Presented by USC Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative. Organized by Pamela Schaff (Medical Education, Family Medicine, and Pediatrics), Alexander Capron (Law and Medicine), Sofia Gruskin (Preventive Medicine and Law), Ron Ben-Ari (Internal Medicine), and Erika Wright (Medical Education and English). Co-sponsored by Keck School of Medicine’s HEAL Program (Humanities, Ethics/Economics, Art, and the Law), USC Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics, and USC Institute on Inequalities in Global Health.

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  • Jennifer See

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