Health and public safety risk from Government prison policy

The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that emergency measures designed to deal with the prison overcrowding crisis in England and Wales could damage vulnerable prisoner’s health and undermine public safety.

Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor and secretary of state for justice, announced a range of urgent policy directives in the House of Lords aimed at easing pressure on the overcrowded prison system. The emergency measures include the early release of some prisoners and the continued use of court and police cells to house prisoners on a long-term basis.

Dr Ashok Rayani, a prison doctor in Wales and a member of the BMA's Civil and Public Services Committee said:

'Many prisoners, including those convicted of non-violent crimes, enter the penal system with serious drug addiction and mental health problems that require immediate assessment and long term rehabilitative treatment. Police and court cells are completely inappropriate for this task. They are built to hold individuals for hours, not days, and as a result they do not have the necessary onsite staff and facilities to cope with medical emergencies, or the infrastructure to provide the basis for intensive and sustained treatment.

'The decision to release some offenders early from their sentence is also deeply troubling. A large number of prisoners currently disappear back into the community after their release with no health or social services support for conditions which can potentially lead to re-offending. The current system is simply not capable of managing adequately the transfer of the large number of prisoners from incarceration to the community as proposed by the Ministry of Justice's emergency measures.

'In the short term, the Government is risking serious damage to prisoner's health by opting for a short-term fix that lands vulnerable individuals in an environment where doctors will struggle to provide adequate care. In the longer term, the prison system is failing the public by not addressing and managing serious conditions that are likely to lead prisoners to re-offend'

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