The medical records for Oregon’s prison inmates will soon be electronically housed in iPads and computers, rather than file boxes.

Gov. John Kitzhaber’s proposed budget for 2015-17 includes $3 million for an electronic medical records system that will replace the paper files on each of the state’s 14,600 inmates and more than 40,000 files maintained for former inmates.

Although this is expensive, Oregon is among many states shifting to digital medical records in prisons and jails. The new systems alleviate a variety of logistical problems allowing for better inmate health care and more accountable agencies, officials said.  

The Department of Corrections previously asked the Oregon Legislature to provide this funding. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that lawmakers saw the need for the new digital system, said Steve Robbins, head of the department’s health services division.

A huge issue concerning paper files was the sheer number of them.

Each inmate has a file containing his or her medical, mental health, dental, and pharmaceutical information. Some inmates have files containing hundreds of pages. Charts are kept for years after inmates leave the system and are stored in a large warehouse.

The pages inside must be faxed if anyone’s doctor needs to see them, Robbins said.

These documents have been hauled around the state’s network of 14 prisons with inmates as they move from one facility to another.

The result of all this paper moving around is a logistical nightmare.

Files occasionally go missing, they sometimes don’t arrive at a prison when the inmate does, and sometimes remain with the wrong doctor – problems alleviated with digital files.

The same charts will be available on every computer to every doctor.

The digital files come with less risk. A fire or flood could wipe out thousands of paper records but digital files are harder to destroy. They do come with the risk of a security breach, Robbins said, but privacy is a concern no matter what their form.

This digital system is nothing new. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has used an electronic system since 2006, according to an audit by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Electronic records will make it easier for prison doctors to see an inmate’s history and easier to share it with a community doctor after an inmate’s release.

The new records system likely won’t be up and running until 2016.

“I wish we could go faster, but there are enough reasonable requirements in this process that we think [2016] is a fair guess,” Robbins said.


Katrina Aman is an aspiring journalist who desires to be a person of positive influence. Particularly passionate about poverty alleviation and civil rights, she hopes her writing takes her where she can improve lives.