Using Telemedicine with Offenders: A Promising Practice

Key Words

telemedicine, health care, mental health, offenders

What it means

Research suggests that the use of telemedicine to deliver health services, especially mental health services, to offenders is a promising practice. While more research is required, there are considerable potential benefits to its use, including improved access to care and cost-savings.

What we found

Correctional jurisdictions have been using telemedicine with offenders since the 1990s. It is most commonly used for psychiatry and other mental health purposes.

Offenders report that they are generally satisfied with their participation in telemedicine. Offenders may even prefer telemedicine to on-site providers for certain issues (e.g., sexual concerns). Benefits include improved safety for the community and staff by decreasing the number of offender off-site visits, decreased wait times to access care (particularly for specialists and in remote areas), and cost savings via decreased travel to off-site appointments. Initial research suggests cost-savings per use range from $8 to $14 per visit and one study found the cost of initial set-up can be recouped in 4 years.

Potential challenges identified include resistance from staff, high start-up costs, lack of technical expertise to ensure the technology operates well, difficulties dealing with offenders who become frustrated or angry during an appointment, and complexities in coordinating appointment times.

What we looked at

Telemedicine is being used in some areas within the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). To provide the Health Services Sector with further information on this practice in other correctional jurisdictions, the academic literature in this area was reviewed and summarized.


Ax, R., K., Fagan, T. J., Magaletta, P. R., Morgan, R. D., Nussbaum, D., & White, T. W. (2007). Innovations in correctional assessment and treatment. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 34, 893-905.

Brunicardi, B. O. (1998). Financial analysis of savings from telemedicine in Ohio’s prison system. Telemedicine Journal, 4, 49-54.

Doarn, C. R., Justis, D., Chaudhri, M. S., & Merrell, R. C. (2005). Integration of telemedicine practice into correctional medicine: An evolving standard. Journal of Correctional Health Care, 11, 253-270.

Magaletta, P. R., Fagan, T. J., & Peyrot, M. F. (2000). Telehealth in the Federal Bureau of Prisons: Inmates’ perceptions. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 31, 497-502.

McCue, M. J., Mazmanian, P. E., Hampton, C. L., Marks, T. K., Fisher, E. J., Parpart, F., Malloy, W. N., & Fisk, K. J. (1998). Cost-minimization analysis: A follow-up study of a telemedicine program. Telemedicine Journal, 4, 323-327.

Tucker, W., Olfson, M., Simring, S., Goodman, W., Bienenfeld, S. (2006). A pilot survey of inmate preferences for on-site, visiting consultant, and telemedicine psychiatric services. CNS Spectrums, 11,  783-787.

Zincone, L. H., Doty, E., & Balch, D. C. (1997). Financial analysis of telemedicine in a prison system. Telemedicine Journal, 3, 247-255.

For more information

Please e-mail the Research Branch or contact us by phone at (613) 995-3975. You can also visit the website for a full list of research publications.

Prepared by: Amanda Nolan & Jenelle Power