Healthcare in Old West Prisons

Yuma Territorial Prison

Healthcare in Old West prisons varied widely. Some were progressive and some weren’t. Most prisons had some kind of medical facility or infirmary to treat the sick but medical care was limited. Germs were just a theory until the last part of the 19th century. The territorial prison at Yuma had twelve beds. They attracted doctors on a transient basis. Few served longer than a year. A Dr. Cotter served from 1893 to 1896. During his tenure he established the prison hospital. Prior to that the only healthcare came from a small infirmary.

The notorious Yuma Territorial Prison was considered one of the most progressive so one can imagine what the many others were like. Jails generally lacked any kind of healthcare facility. A local doctor would be called in for minor ailments and serious cases would be sent to the nearest hospital. Judging by today’s standards prison and jail healthcare in the 19th century was still in the Dark Ages.

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