18 June 2010
For men across New Zealand, Men’s Health Week is a timely reminder that their health is in their hands, to take control and see their doctor for a check up. For prisoners, seeing their family doctor isn’t an option, but seeing prison health staff is.
At the beginning of this week there were over 8,100 men in 17 men’s prisons across the country. Many have complex health needs which have gone undetected or unaddressed before they came to prison.
Over half of the prison population has been diagnosed with a chronic disease. A chronic disease is one that’s lasted, or is expected to last longer, than six months.
The most common chronic disease amongst prisoners is asthma, with one in five prisoners diagnosed with the condition. Approximately two thirds of prisoners are smokers and over half of the prison population are overweight or obese. Diabetes, heart disease and cancer are relatively common amongst prisoners.
“Improving the health and wellbeing of prisoners is a focus for the Department. Healthy prisoners are more likely to engage with rehabilitative programmes and comply with their sentences. They are also less likely to be a burden on taxpayers with worsening health conditions in the future if we can identify and address them in prison,” says acting National Health Services Manager Deb Alleyne.
The Department is funded to provide a primary health service to prisoners similar to what’s available in the community. Doctors and other health professionals routinely visit prisons and every prison has a health centre where nurses deliver ‘front-line’ services to prisoners.
“Within 24 hours of arriving at prison, all prisoners have a comprehensive health assessment completed by a registered nurse.”
“Health needs identified from this initial assessment are addressed through an individualised plan of care including clinical interventions if needed. This can include medication, further investigation such as blood tests and management of injuries. Staff also provide general health education and support to prisoners and can refer them to specialist services if required.”
“Prisoners can request to see health staff at any point during their sentence. Custodial staff can also request for health staff to assess a prisoner if they believe a prisoner needs assistance.”
Auckland Prison has a team of around 15 registered nurses responsible for the primary healthcare of over 600 prisoners. Prison Manager Neil Beales says the work of health staff is essential for the smooth running of the prison.
“On any given day they could be managing medication, treating infections, dressing wounds or injuries sustained in employment or other activities, responding to emergencies or advising prisoners about quitting smoking.”
“Having a team of healthcare professionals at the prison means we are less likely to need to transport prisoners to outside medical centres or hospitals outside the prison.”
“The work that our health staff do also assists in keeping staff across the prison safe - they screen for and provide education around communicable diseases such as hepatitis, and vaccinate against these diseases where appropriate. Reducing the risk of infection and spread of communicable diseases amongst prisoners reduces the chance of our staff and other prisoners becoming sick. It also protects the public from the spread of disease into the community when the prisoner is released.”
“Encouraging the good health of prisoners has a positive impact on sentence compliance which contributes to reducing reoffending. Prisoners who participate in addressing their addiction issues, chronic health conditions and poor lifestyle choices are also more likely to reintegrate into their families and communities when they are released from prison.”
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