A Conversation With The President of the American Medical Student Association

PfCJR Interviews Isaiah Cochran, the National President of AMSA

Recently, Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform announced a collaboration with the American Medical Student Association, where a series of Op-eds and studies are being conducted on various topics such as Juvenile Health Legislation, and Mental Health in the Criminal Justice System. We interviewed Isaiah Cochran, to get some more insight on the collaboration. 

Isaiah A. Cochran, M.D. is national president and chair of the board of trustees for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). He serves as a key organizational spokesperson for AMSA and active promoter of the organization’s educational programming, advocacy pursuits and membership recruitment and engagement efforts. In addition to serving as an AMSA board member since 2016, Cochran also has held leadership positions with Refugee Student Alliance and Global Health Initiative. He earned his medical degree from the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio, and a bachelor’s degree from Waynesburg University, Waynesburg, Pa.

Why are you interested in criminal justice reform?

I am interested in CJ reform, due to the fact that there are many people who are being imprisoned and they should not be. We are also seeing minorities charged for crimes at a higher rate than non-minorities and this is not ok.  I stand by justice for everything in life, and CJ reform is no exception to my rule for paying it forward. When it comes to health care, there are far too many individuals who are not being taken care of in prison or people who are being kept in prison longer than they should be all the while not receiving proper care.

What are the goals of the partnership between PfCJR and AMSA?

Our goal is to provide awareness, educate the medical community, mobilize them, fight for change, and vote for those who support reforming the CJ system

Why does this partnership make sense?

It makes sense because we have physicians-in-training who are working with fully licensed docs who also believe in change. This is a powerful combination

What is the importance of the intersections between criminal justice reform and healthcare?

I addressed this a little in the first question. To be succinct, as physicians and physicians-in-training- we have vowed to do no harm. The goal is to maintain the health of those who have been imprisoned so that they can work to better themselves and become citizens who can feel comfortable and society and become productive members of the community. 

What specific project are you currently working on with pfcjr?

I just completed outlines for students to use about the elderly in prison and those who have a mental illness in prison. These were made so that students could feel comfortable enough to go out to their representatives and speak about how reform should happen.

Is there anything else you would like to share about this initiative?

Yes, our goal is to go state by state and get all of the medical community involved in this fight. If we all band together, then we can certainly make a change.

A New Partnership for PfCJR

PfCJR Partners With A New Criminal Justice Taskforce From ACOEM

In 2016, the United States held 2.2 million people in prisons and jails, and about 870,000 of these inmates performed some type of work, whether supporting the functioning of the prison, for prison industries, or under contract for private corporations.


They work jobs with well characterized occupational hazards – agriculture, manufacturing, fire fighting, chemical production, and many others – yet our standard occupational health surveillance systems (eg OSHA and NIOSH) explicitly ignore work-related injuries, illnesses, or fatalities in this “institutionalized” population.


Furthermore, there are precisely zero articles in our medical and public health literature addressing the occupational health of prisoners, and prison inmates are almost completely excluded from every major labor and employment protection in the US.

 Finally, inmates are exposed to all the unique hazards of the prison environment – psychosocial stressors, physical and social isolation, poor institutional oversight, and vulnerability to exploitation, powerfully suggesting that these workers suffer higher rates of injury and illness compared to counterparts in the free market.


Herein lies the opportunity – physicians have precisely the training and authority to guide research and address hazards in prisoners’ workplaces. That research must document current injury and illness rates and advocate workplace controls equivalent to those in the free labor market. We must also characterize unique hazards faced by inmates, informed by social epidemiological and qualitative methods, while recognizing the larger environmental forces shaping their overall safety. 


The following article is the first to ever recognize the position inmates hold as the most marginalized of occupational populations, written by a member of the Incarcerated Workers Occupational Health Task Force, under the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM). OEM physicians are certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine and specially trained to attend to the health of workers through epidemiological investigation, direct medical care, prevention of occupational injuries and illnesses, and protection from environmental hazards.


This task force will be applying precisely these skills to address the workplace health of incarcerated workers. In the coming years we will confirm a literature review, scope and plan a research strategy, identify stakeholders, and publish the initial results from our investigations, but a challenge of this magnitude will require broader expertise.


The Task Force is seeking partners from all other medical specialties to help. Virchow reminds us that “It is the curse of humanity that it learns to tolerate even the most horrible situations by habituation,” but together we can build this research from the ground up, propose policy, and to lend the powerful, trusted, and moral voices of physicians to a critical and growing conversation about criminal justice reform. 


Andre Montoya-Barthelemy MD MPH

    Incarcerated Workers Occupational Health Task Force

    American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine



Andre Montoya-Barthelemy is a physician of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (OEM) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is a recent graduate of the HealthPartners OEM residency where he completed his thesis on the labor rights of incarcerated workers, and now serving as clinical faculty, assistant residency director, and consultant medical director for Xcel Energy and General Mills. He intends to continue searching for ways for physicians to combine their unique skills and voice to address topics of human rights.