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  • Criminalization
  • Letter

There is significant evidence that incarceration worsens physical and mental health outcomes that have long-term impacts on an individual’s health and wellbeing. A disproportionately large proportion of people who are incarcerated suffer from mental health and substance use disorders. A correctional setting is far from the ideal place to treat these and other medical conditions. In fact, researchers have found that people with mental illness and substance use disorders do better when they are treated in the community rather than in correctional settings. 

This letter can be used to advocate for your patient if incarceration poses a significant physical or mental health risk. It can be written in conjunction with the letter advocating that court fines not be imposed on your patient, if you also believe that court fines would negatively impact your patient’s medical or mental health.

Example language to use in the letter:

Please list the medical and mental health conditions that you believe incarceration would exacerbate. It is reasonable to list the patient’s entire medical history here. For example:

  • “hypertension, chronic kidney disease, head and neck cancer, and depression.”
  • “post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, type II diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis.”
Please describe any improvements the patient has made to their overall health or life. This is your opportunity to describe your patient’s strengths. For example:
  • “(Patient name) has recently done a remarkable job of “adhering to appointments and medications, exercising, and eating healthier.”
  • “(Patient name) has recently done a remarkable job of “taking medications, caring for family members, and remaining in recovery from substance use.”


  1. Preventing Incarceration Letter Template
  2. Example Letter

Next steps

Instruct your patient to take this letter to his/her/their attorney, who will then determine whether and how to present it to the judge.