Tamil Nadu Prison Health Care System Reforms Lives
Q. How is the health care system in prisons different from the hospitals for the general public?
A. Healthcare for prison inmates involves much more than just diagnosis and medication. The majority of those admitted to the prisons have grown up in circumstances that encourage the use of intoxicants and other unhealthy substances. Many suffer from addictions. Also, the guilt feeling and the feeling of rejection by the society at large affects the mental and physical health of most inmates. So, healthcare program involves not just physical care but also lifestyle changes and changes in thinking patterns. We have to make a conscious effort to change the negativity of the prison atmosphere into positivity by taking various steps.
Let me give you an idea of the medical infrastructure available with us. Each of our 9 Central Prisons and 3 Special Prisons for Women has an exclusive hospital with in-patient facility. Each hospital has two doctors and adequate number of supporting medical staff. Diagnostic labs, equipped with X-ray machines, ECG, blood analyser and auto glove etc., are attached to these hospitals. In case the doctor in charge of the hospital feels that the facilities available in the prison hospital are inadequate to handle the specific medical condition of the inmate, he refers the inmate to the Government hospital. Apart from this, frequent medical camps are conducted by NGOs.
Annually medicines worth approximately Rs. 40/- lakhs are used to treat the inmates.
Psychiatrists from nearby hospitals or medical colleges make fortnightly visits to the hospitals to treat inmates suffering from minor psychological problems.
Q. Do people undergo health screening before they enter prisons?
A. Before a person is admitted to a prison, he or she is thoroughly screened for external and internal injuries. Also, risk-factors such as high or low blood pressure, diabetes, heart trouble, AIDS, psychological problems etc. are examined and treated. Persons who suffer from depression and severe feeling of guilt are kept under observation. In case of need special diet is prescribed.
Q. What efforts have been taken in handling inmates with HIV/AIDS or towards curbing virus transmission?
A. Testing for HIV is a part of the initial screening. Those who test positive are kept segregated from others. ICTC (Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre) assists the medical authorities of the prisons in this regard.
Q. How are prison inmates educated on health?
A. Health education is one of the focus-areas of the lifestyle changes in the prisons. Classes on Yoga, meditation, Art of Living and other such areas orient the thinking of the prison inmates towards mental and physical health. They are encouraged to break with their past and start a new life as healthy and useful citizens of the world.
Q. How are the prison staffs trained?
A. Apart from the Foundation Course that a member of the Prison Department has to undergo immediately on joining the Department, a number of in-service courses are conducted from time to time. At the level of the Warders the emphasis in these in-service courses is on physical stamina. We also send them for commando courses. For the senior officials the focus is on soft-skills and reformation techniques. They are trained at APCA (Academy of Prisons and Correctional Administration) in Vellore, an institution jointly maintained by the four Southern States of Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Q. In what aspects do the women's health care system in prisons differ?
A. Women inmates in the Tamil Nadu prisons are supplied sanitary napkins free-of-cost. These are manufactured by the women prison-inmates themselves. Children up to the age of six are permitted to stay with their mothers in a crèche specially maintained for them and provided with toys and other forms of entertainment. Children are given milk and other special nourishments.
Medindia thanks Mr. S.K. Dogra, IPS, Head of the Tamil Nadu Prison Department for sharing information on the efforts taken towards the betterment of people in need of direction.