After an extended debate, much of which was uninformed or intentionally mis-informed by critics, the Affordable Care Act has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion.
This is an important moment in the U.S. history, a filling in of an area of citizen welfare that other advanced industrial nations (and others that aren't) figured out long ago. It is absolutely amazing and grotesque that Republicans in Congress are so bitterly opposed to what their own citizens want and need.
Of course this law has direct implications for the criminal justice system, for persons under arrest and in the care and keeping of the criminal justice system. Locally, health professionals have already noted its importance.
Over time we will see far greater impact as the law is fully implemented by 2014. The field of criminal justice is highly sensitive to changes in the health care system--adequate medical care is one of the best crime prevention policies around. As the long history of the criminal justice system attests, when people lack any or adequate health care, their problems multiply and this can easily put them at risk of falling into the hands of the criminal justice system--leaving criminal justice personnel with the task of providing a short-term solution to a community problem. This is most obvious in the case of substance abuse treatment and mental illness but also in a great many other situations.
Update: since this entry was originally written, The Affordable Care Act: Implications for Public Safety and Corrections Populations, has been published, which breaks down some of the ways the Affordable Care Act will reduce crime and/or recidivism.
For the moment this is a time to rejoice and celebrate a new and long-needed chapter in the uneven progress of improved quality of life for Americans.