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The place of medicine in the American prison: ethical issues in the treatment of offenders.
  1. P L Sissons

    Abstract

    In Britain doctors and others concerned with the treatment of offenders in prison may consult the Butler Report (see Focus, pp 157) and specialist journals, but these sources are concerned with the system in Britain only. In America the situation is different, both in organization and in certain attitudes. Dr Peter L Sissons has therefore provided a companion article to that of Dr Paul Bowden (page 163) describing the various medical issues in prisons. The main difference between the treatment of offenders in prisons in America and in Britain lies in the nature of the federal system which means that each state may operate a different system in a variety of prisons and prison medical services are as various. Nationally, the prison systems are 'structured to treat and cure the offender'. Therefore it follows that the prison medical officer is only one of the professionals concerned with this 'cure' of the offender. This principle also applies to any form of research: medical research in prisons is part of a programme which covers a wide field of social and judicial research. The prison medical officer (where there is one) has of course to look after sick prisoners, and the American idea of 'cure' is also expressed in the need for more corrective surgery where, for example, it is necessary to remove physical impediments to social rehabilitation. But a doctor is only found on the staff of those institutions which are large: in the smaller prisons there may be only first-aid facilities, and no specially appointed doctor in the community. Moreover medicines are often dispensed by medical auxiliaries who are sometimes prisoners themselves. Finally, in America prisoners are regularly invited to volunteer as subjects for medical and social research for which they are paid. In short, although it is hoped to 'cure' a prisoner he is a criminal first and a patient second.

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