Sunday, March 11, 2007

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

I want to thank Michael (see his comments on my 'No You Don't' post) for sending along a link to a very interesting case. Even if you don't work in corrections people should really read this; it provides a revealing description of the hard place correctional facilities & personnel get stuck in when working with very difficult inmates.

The case is a complaint to the United Nation's human rights committee filed by an Aboriginal juvenile in an adult Australian prison. The 16 year old detainee was involved in a riot in a juvenile facility and took someone hostage. He was transferred to an adult correctional facility (following a conviction for armed robbery) where he was placed on segregation both for institutional security and for protection from adult inmates. While there he attempted suicide and threatened self-harm if not removed from segregation. While being placed on suicide precautions (which involves removing the inmate's clothes) he kicked an officer in the head. To make a long story short, he had repeated episodes both of self-harm and aggression toward officers. He was given at least two additional prison sentences for convictions related to assault on correctional staff. He was prescribed an antipsychotic medication (what's 'Largactil'?). In the complaint it's alleged that the inmate was prescribed the medication without an examination, and that when the examination took place it did not support any diagnosis requiring medication (or so I'm reading a rather obscure quote). The inmate admittedly took the medication voluntarily after a period of involuntary treatment.

I'm obviously not familiar with the legal procedures for transferring Australian juveniles to adult facilties, but regardless the meat of the claim appears to be that once in an adult facility the inmate had no effective legal means of challenging his punishment or alleged inappropriate treatment. He could follow an administrative appeals process but this apparently didn't provide for damages or any judicial power of intervention. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's how I read it.) The human rights court found that most of the interventions did not violate the inmates rights except as regards certain episodes of length of confinement (going more than 72 hours without out-of-cell time) and removal of his clothing. It specifically found that giving an antipsychotic medication did not violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (see point 9.5 under 'discussion of the merits'). It also doubted the utility of a tort claim due to lack of clear damages.

In free society American physicians adhere to certain protocols when giving orders for the use of seclusion. American prisons also have policies and procedures for this; failure to follow policy has been the ground for Department of Justice intervention.