THEPROFESSIONALS; Better Medical Service Will Improve Prisoners' Health and Management

Article excerpt

Byline: Lucy Merredy

IN the increasingly complex world of modern-day policing and the criminal justice system, it is easy to overlook the fact that detainees in police custody need healthcare as much as, and often more than, people in the general population.

But, like elsewhere in the UK, forensic medical services in Wales would benefit from review and modernisation. There are some stark links between poor health and crime which merit greater recognition - a comprehensively-developed forensic medical service would be ideally placed to address some of these issues.

Health issues are proportionately one of the most common features in the profile of detainees and offenders. An optimally-developed forensic medical service would identify and respond to these needs in a way that better serves detainees and wider society.

In particular, appropriately diverting those individuals with primary health care needs away from the criminal justice system, while acknowledging the importance of public protection.

The 2009 Bradley Review of people in the criminal justice system with mental health problems or learning disabilities found there are more people in prison with mental health problems than ever.

A further study in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine found that although 56% of detainees in London had active medical conditions, almost a third were not even registered with a GP. Of those studied, 18% had an ongoing mental health condition; 25% were dependent on alcohol; 33% were depend-ent on crack cocaine and heroin and more than 7% had previously been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

It is absolutely crucial that forensic medical services are developed with a capacity of trained medical professionals that have the time and remit to conduct medical assessments and risk reviews that contribute as much to the agenda of prevention as to the acute management of detainees. Forensic physicians - sometimes called police surgeons or forensic medical examiners - are at the forefront of custodial healthcare. …