All Texas prison inmates requiring hospitalization since 1983 have been transferred to a separate prison hospital adjacent to a tertiary care university hospital. We reviewed and analyzed the data regarding one major tertiary care service, namely cardiac surgery, to describe the rate of utilization of this service and its results. From January 1, 1984, to June 30, 1988, 73 inmates underwent 74 cardiac operations, 50 of which were coronary revascularizations. The age-adjusted rates of utilization for coronary artery bypass grafting were substantially higher for inmates over age 45 than for that described for the general population, whereas the utilization rates for valve surgery were comparable. There were no perioperative or late deaths, and 86% of the inmate patients are currently employed within the Texas Department of Corrections system or were employed at the time of their release. The utilization rates and the results of this representative tertiary medical care service for the state's prison population are comparable to those achieved in the private sector, and may have a substantial beneficial effect on inmate rehabilitation.