Inmates not getting proper health care, says rights group

Inmates not getting proper health care, says rights group

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

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STAND Up For Jamaica (SUFJ) has renewed the call for health officials to do more to improve the well-being of prisoners at correctional facilities islandwide.
In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, Executive Director Carla Gullotta charged that neglect of the prisoners' health is the main challenge that needs urgent attention.

In painting a grim picture of the shortcomings, the SUFJ executive director pointed out that though there is a health officer employed to work across the various penal institutions, resources are thin. Subsequently, Gullotta said, inmates have to wait for months to be examined for various ailments.

“If you have institutions, let's say GP [General Penitentiary] on Tower Street with 1,600 inmates, what do you do with a dentist once per month who can only [examine] maybe five or six of them?” Gullotta asked.

“If you have a doctor coming once per month, that is not enough. We can train some of the inmates to work at the hospital but [that] is sort of patch [work] because they don't have the expertise.

They are not doctors; they can give some tablets but are you sure they are doing exactly what is supposed to be done?”
According to Gullotta, one of the main shortcomings within the penal system is inadequate psychiatric help.

“There is only one psychiatrist for 6,000 inmates, including the 350 mentally ill.

How do you think somebody will follow the ones who have problems? How do you think somebody can assess them to find out what's wrong with them?”
Further, Gullotta stated that mental illness constitutes a range of ailments that require proper diagnosis, which becomes impractical with only one psychiatrist.

“When you say 'mentally ill' it canbe a huge variety of things. It can be somebody who is completely damaged, it can be somebody who is only traumatised and it should be assessed and taken care of.

Can one psychiatrist do all of it in the correctional services?” she asked. “It is impossible,“ she added.

At the Fort Augusta Correctional Centre — the facility which houses female inmates — Gullotta said the reality is disheartening.

“It is disheartening when you look at the females, they do not have a gynaecologist.

The only gynaecologist is at the juvenile centre, where Stand Up [SUFJ] has provided one, and she comes every week to visit the... 44 girls, which is a small amount, plus she is giving sessions to them about sexuality, about maternity, knowing your body, about how to prevent diseases. But the 160 women at Fort Augusta don't have any [things like that],” Gullotta pointed out.

In addition, SUFJ has sought to ensure the protection of the basic human rights guaranteed to inmates through international human rights instruments such as the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules) and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Gullotta, however, did not cast blame on the Department of Correctional Services for the situation in prisons. She instead rapped the Ministry of Health and Wellness for the lack of services to inmates.

“The Ministry of Health should step in heavily.

We have had quite a number of meetings with [them] about the mentally ill in prison. I must commend Minister Dr Christopher Tufton for taking an interest and agreeing that they should not be in prison, but a different location.

However, where is this location? I know it is going to take time and I appreciate that he has shown interest in fixing this but, in the meantime, there are people abandoned [in the prisons].

“These are people who are sick and need to go to the hospital. They have ulcers, they have cancers. [When] they reach the hospital, they are so sick that it is very hard for them to do something,” she lamented.

In response to the criticisms, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said, “We have been discussing with the Ministry of National Security a review of the approach to providing medical services to inmates.

There are limitations which need to be addressed. Having said that, like any other citizen, if an inmate gets sick the public health system should respond with treatment once they access the system.”

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