Good medicine

Advertiser (Grand Falls) - - Editorial -

It might sound like a sim­ple name change, just a shift of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties from one pro­vin­cial govern­ment depart­ment to an­other. But in this case, you can ar­gue that it may save lives.

Health Min­is­ter Dr. John Hag­gie has said that, within a year, in­mate health care will move com­pletely from be­ing a re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice to the Depart­ment of Health.

If noth­ing else, it’s a change of fo­cus for such care from se­cu­rity to health; in other words, it may mean that the health of the in­mate may be a more press­ing con­cern than the im­me­di­ate con­cerns of main­tain­ing or­der in Her Majesty’s Pen­i­ten­tiary, a fa­cil­ity that vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one agrees is woe­fully in need of mod­ern re­place­ment.

And Dr. Hag­gie has gone fur­ther, say­ing that con­tin­u­ing care — ei­ther coun­selling or see­ing a doc­tor — should run con­sis­tently through­out a pris­oner’s time in jail.

In the past, in­car­cer­a­tion has meant an abrupt in­ter­rup­tion in health care; for years, pris­on­ers have had to deal with health-care pro­fes­sion­als within the jus­tice sys­tem who may have a pro­foundly dif­fer­ent view of the ne­ces­sity of dif­fer­ent types of care.

In­mates have com­plained about be­ing cut off cold turkey from long­time med­i­cal regimes, and there have been cases where judges have tried to en­sure — by an or­der from the bench — that pris­on­ers be able to con­tinue to re­ceive care from their own physi­cians.

Why shouldn’t an in­mate con­tinue to re­ceive treat­ment and med­i­cal pre­scrip­tions from their own physi­cian, whether they are in­side or out­side the pen­i­ten­tiary? The is­sue is their med­i­cal well-be­ing — the pun­ish­ment part of prison surely does not in­clude a re­quire­ment for med­i­cal pe­nal­iza­tion in any form, does it?

There are set rea­sons for de­tain­ing a per­son in prison: pun­ish­ment by re­mov­ing them from friends, fam­ily and nor­mal life. It’s done both to pro­tect the pub­lic, and in or­der to de­ter oth­ers from com­mit­ting the same of­fences.

But prison sen­tences are not meant to pun­ish some pris­on­ers even more by mak­ing abrupt changes in their med­i­cal care. Pris­ons are not sup­posed to de­liver par­tic­u­lar an­guish on those who are suf­fer­ing from men­tal health is­sues — and plenty of peo­ple with men­tal health is­sues end up in prison, de­spite the fact there are bet­ter way to ad­dress their is­sues both ear­lier and more ef­fec­tively.

The pro­posed changes come at a sig­nif­i­cant time: cor­rec­tions in­sti­tu­tions in the prov­ince are un­der­go­ing a re­view fol­low­ing a se­ries of deaths in cus­tody. There have been four deaths in the prov­ince’s cor­rec­tions sys­tem in the last year, with the lat­est be­ing the sui­cide of Christo­pher Sut­ton.

It seems im­pos­si­ble that the sta­tus quo can be al­lowed to con­tinue.

A new set of eyes, fo­cus­ing on men­tal and phys­i­cal health first and fore­most, is an ex­cel­lent first step.

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