Can You Use a CPAP In Prison?

CPAP Use In Prison

Yes, if you are in jail or prison, you have every right to use a CPAP or BIPAP if you have a medical condition, like sleep apnea. Depending on the facility, there might be some red tape you may have to go through.

Anyone who is incarcerated is still a person, and should be treated as such. Any denial of medical treatment that is medically necessary is considered cruel and unusual punishment.

The Criminal Justice Standards on Treatment of Prisoners (Standard 23-2.5) states that all prisoners should have a comprehensive medical check-up within two weeks of being incarcerated. However, the criminal justice system is overworked, understaffed, and underfunded so prisoners can fall through the cracks, and it might take significantly longer for the initial examination.

I will go over some tips on on you can make sure that your rights or a loved ones rights are not violated. I will go over tips for both people who are already diagnosed and also tips for those that are not diagnosed, but suspect there may be a sleep disorder like sleep apnea.

I will go over some other information on what you may expect and what kinds of hurdles that may come up.

If you already are diagnosed with sleep apnea and have your CPAP machine, then you will have an easier time to get the treatment continued.

How to make sure you get to use your CPAP and medical treatments

Here are some suggestions put forth by The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights organization.
They suggest the following if you or a loved one is incarcerated and has a medical condition. (1)

  • Collect any medical records that show your diagnosis to provide to the facility.
  • Request your regular doctor be allowed to do your medical examinations and provide any
    prescriptions, etc. needed.
  • Contact the medical team at the prison directly rather than going through security to make sure they
    are aware of any medical conditions.
  • The Department of Corrections website will have the contact information for a specific facility’s
    medical director who you can then contact.

Some states have legal organizations that “will sometimes advocate for individual prisoners who are
not receiving proper medical and mental health care and treatment.”

The link here provides information on prison healthcare projects and legal organizations available in individual states to ensure that every prisoner’s voice is heard.

Currently, in most locations, the specifics of what medical devices are allowed in the general population area are controlled by that facility’s management.

Some have specific cells set aside for medical accommodations, and some do not. Your situation will depend on your state laws and current facility policies. Legal assistance from a volunteer organization should be available in your area. They can help to advocate for you.

Even though there are specific difficulties faced by prisoners needing access to BiPAP or CPAP machines, most prison and jail systems have enough resources to ensure inmates get proper medical care within a reasonable amount of time. Though what is considered reasonable can vary by state and individual facility.

Because mandatory medical intervention is required for immediate medical concerns, some people who cannot afford medical care personally will get themselves arrested so that the criminal justice system will assist them. This is an unfortunate reality but does prove that the attention of inmates is a high priority for the medical professionals in jails and prisons.  (2)

I know health care is expensive, but I would never suggest such an idea that crazy.

If you have not been diagnosed yet, but believe you may have sleep apnea, it may be trickier for you. But you still have rights and you should do everything you can to make your voice heard.

Despite multiple states currently charging for medical visits, the Criminal Justice Standard on Treatment of Prisoners (Standard 23-6.1, a.v and b) states that “health care that is necessary during the period of imprisonment [be] provided regardless of a prisoner’s ability to pay, the size of the correctional facility, or the duration of the prisoner’s incarceration.”

Also, “prisoners should not be charged fees for necessary health care.” (3) These standards are not always met, but they are what is put forth by the criminal justice system, as a rule, to be followed.

If you have any medical records that rules out other conditions that may suggest you have sleep apnea, get those records and provide them to your facilities medical team to make your case. Go over with them any symptoms you are having and for how long.

Red Tape and Hurdles you may run into

The very act of getting diagnosed with a medical condition after arriving within a prison population is not easy. Most county jail locations and prisons around the country are not set up to accommodate the kind of clinics needed to diagnose certain conditions like sleep apnea.

Many times this is caused by a lack of information provided to the incarcerated individuals so they are unaware that they even require additional medical testing. This means that prisoners can go untreated, potentially for years, suffering from conditions that would be easily identified and treatable for the general public.

One reason why sleep apnea is explicitly becoming an issue in prisons is the fact that the population of long term prisoners is aging, and sleep apnea is one of the most common age-related disorders.

Worryingly, the mortality rate related to sleep apnea also increases with age, so this is a vulnerable group who must have proper access to medical equipment and information. Currently, that is not the case for every prison facility in the country. Some states have more comprehensive prison medical policies and funding than others.

Usually, specific medical devices Like a CPAP or BIPAP require that the inmate relocates to individual cells that have wall socket outlets for charge plugs, which may not be in most other cells depending on the jail or prison. This can also result in not enough cells available with proper ability to accommodate devices, which may lead to transfers to another location and delay of treatment.

Lack of standardization across all the states and inmate populations, confusion, delayed responses to medical needs, and a waste of funds. (4)

Even though some medical equipment is allowed and they can potentially get access to a CPAP or BiPAP machine in prison, that does not mean that prisoners suffering from sleep apnea are always able to afford the copay needed to provide the medical visits or the device itself.

One of the most costly copays is located in Texas prisons and jails, where it can be up to $100 for medical visits. If the family of the prisoner is unable to afford this, then they could go without care indefinitely. (5)

Thirty-eight separate states now require that prisoners pay some form of fee to get medical care. The new cost is primarily due to the rise in associated medical costs that the prison system is unable to afford. (5)

Another reason for the price is to keep down on medical visits when they are not needed. While this is understandable, it does little to help those genuinely suffering from chronic illnesses.

Despite multiple states currently charging for medical visits, the Criminal Justice Standard on Treatment of Prisoners (Standard 23-6.1, a.v and b) states that “health care that is necessary during the period of imprisonment [be] provided regardless of a prisoner’s ability to pay, the size of the correctional facility, or the duration of the prisoner’s incarceration.”

Also, “prisoners should not be charged fees for necessary health care.” (3) These standards are not always met, but they are what is put forth by the criminal justice system, as a rule, to be followed.

On any given day, the prison system has over one hundred million prisoners to contend with, and their medical issues all need to be addressed within a satisfactory time frame. That is not always possible, and some prisoners suffer because of it.

Future Focus and How Prison Medical Access Can Be Improved

One clinician saw the need for more medical support in prisons and did something about it. The study released afterward showed the findings and an ideal way to create more much needed medical services for American prisoners. (5)

The nurse who created the trial was worried about sleep apnea is underdiagnosed and undertreated in the general prison population—connecting with medical professionals in her community allowed for referrals to be made by prisoners, their family, or facility managers. An increase in exposing inmates to information about sleep apnea also made it easier for them to get referred. Information distribution was mostly done by putting up posters with information on the signs of sleep apnea.

They are making sure that general knowledge of the disorder is available to inmate populations that may otherwise be unaware that they even have it will be a significant first step towards ensuring that they get the treatment needed. The trial mentioned above also included several nights of sleep study for prisoners who they suspected of having a sleep disorder, and then they were allowed to use the CPAP or BiPAP in their cells.

It will be up to the medical community within the prison system to spearhead changes that need to be made to ensure that sleep disorders and other medical conditions are not only adequately understood by the general prisoner population but also the management of facilities. Education is one of the most excellent tools for positive change. Communication with medical leaders both inside and outside the prison system is also crucial so that overtaxed prison medical centers will be able to give referrals to outside medical professionals who can then come in to assess the patients.

The collective voices of medical teams and the friends and family of incarcerated men and women suffering from sleep apnea will be the deciding factor on how quickly changes are made in any given state or facility.For more information on healthcare expectations by the United  Nations concerning all prisoners worldwide, you can visit Penal Reform International.

One study showed that seventy-one percent of the limitations in providing fast and efficient healthcare to inmates came from a lack of budget funding. (7) Proper funding is something that can be addressed by lawmakers in your state or facility managers. Prison health reform has been a hot topic for decades.

It will continue to be until they have been brought up to a high enough standard to satisfy the general and
incarcerated population.


Anyone who is incarcerated in jail or prison has a right to medical treatment. There may be some red tape, and the ease of getting access to that treatment can vary in each state and facility.

The World Health Organization rightly insists that “people who are in prison have the same right to health care as everyone else,” and they call for an international standard of medical care for incarcerated individuals. (6) They suggest that the best way to ensure this is to make sure medical rights inside jails and prisons mirror those on the outside.

We still have a ways to go until this is a reality in every state, but there are always options and resources. Hopefully things will get better for the future.





Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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