Experts urge better inmate health care

September 3, 2013
By

dsaiop

The government should improve healthcare services for inmates after a recent study found many suffer from health and substance abuse problems, a Chiang Mai expert says.

Apinun Aramrattana, from Chiang Mai University’s faculty of medicine, said little attention is paid to prisoners’ health.

He called on officials to pay particular attention to inmates convicted on drug charges, as they are at higher risk of HIV infection and related diseases.

About 60% of the 215,000 prisoners nationwide are serving time for drug use or smuggling.

The HIV infection rate among prisoners was 10% about a decade ago, Dr Apinun said, adding that he did not believe the situation had improved.

Dr Apinun, who presented his 2011 study on former inmates’ health to the 21st International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) Conference in Pattaya last week, said many inmates died from tuberculosis, commonly found in Aids patients, after they were released from prison.

Overcrowding, insufficient staff at prison hospitals and delayed diagnosis and treatment are the major barriers to inmates receiving proper health care, he said.

Dr Apinun said one of the prisons he visited had only one nurse and a physician available to treat more than 1,500 prisoners.

In his study, Dr Apinun also conducted health checks on 43 prisoners after they were released from Chiang Mai Central Prison.

He found that after their release, 92% of former inmates consumed alcohol, about 30% used amphetamines, 87% smoked cigarettes and 100% used the psychoactive medication category of benzodiazepines.

About 6% of the study group ended up back in prison, he said.

The study also revealed that vocational training was of little or no real benefit to the prisoners following their release.

“We believe that prison will make the convicts’ lives better, but it’s actually not the case,” Dr Apinun said.

He called on the government to invest in improving health care for prisoners to help reduce recidivism.

Michelle Baybutt, from the UK-based Lead for the Target Wellbeing Pan Regional Prisons Programme, told the IUHPE conference that physical activities, such as gardening, can improve prisoners’ health.

In her gardening programmes that involve life- and long-sentence female prisoners in the UK, she found positive behavioural changes.

The programme is all about working together to improve social interaction and mental health, she said.

About 90% of inmates have psychological health or drug dependency problems, or both, she said.

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