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Review Prison Health Services before implementing Bill

Review Prison Health Services before implementing Corrections Amendment Bill

Provisions in the recently introduced Corrections Amendment Bill that shift responsibility for the provision of prisoner health services from an independent contracted medical services officer to a prison health centre manager, should go on hold until there has been an independent review of prison health services, says Kim Workman, Director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment.

“In July 2010, the National Health Committee’s “Health in Justice” report noted that since 2004, at least 15 reports have disclosed serious concerns about the health of prisoners. These reports had come from agencies such as the Controller and Auditor-General, the Office of the Ombudsmen, the Ministry of Health, Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare, the Human Rights Commission, and the New Zealand Drug Foundation. The Office of the Ombudsmen was at that time undertaking an own-motion investigation into the delivery of primary health care services within prisons.”

“The Committee’s advice was to consider a transfer of responsibility for prisoner primary health care to the health sector. Its report seems to have been buried, and requests under the Official Information Act have failed to unearth it.”

“The transfer of responsibility for health services to a departmental employee may be more efficient, but the real test is whether it will result in an improved service. A 2005 Ombudsman’s Report noted that prisoners perceived nurses as “preventing” prisoners seeing a doctor, and the provision of dental services was a major concern. At every prison there were complaints about the provision of dental services. Given that about 40% of all prisoners are functionally illiterate, and another 40% have literacy issues, access to complaint mechanisms won’t suffice. There needs to be a proper external system of checks and balances.”

“It would be helpful if the public could have access to basic prisoner health data, to show that there has been significant improvement over the last six years, or whether a decision transfer responsibility for health services to prison staff is premature.”


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