EDITORIAL: Dodds medical care worry
WE ARE REASONABLY SURE that most Barbadians would agree that the fit and proper place to incarcerate people convicted of crime under the local justice system is Her Majesty’s Prisons Dodds in St Philip.
We are also sure that reasonable people would agree that because a person has been sentenced to prison as punishment for his crime does not mean the individual should be deprived of basic human rights.
Therefore we expect that right-thinking Barbadians are paying particular attention to the court case involving suspended policeman Devere Millington, 43, who has pleaded guilty to three counts of serious indecency. Millington’s attorney is arguing that he should not be imprisoned at Dodds because he has a cardiac condition and the facility is not equipped or staffed to properly treat him.
Barbadians, in examining the merits of Millington’s arguments, might recall the internationally watched murder trial of Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, who argued unsuccessfully that the South African prison to which he was to be confined was not equipped to house a double amputee. In the end the court, after hearing from prison officials, did not accept his argument.
We do not wish to give anyone the impression we are trying to influence the decision of the Barbados court, or to argue whether or not the suspended lawman is just trying to evade a prison sentence. What we do contend, however, is that the state has a duty to ensure that except in the most unusual of cases, it has adequate systems in place to respond fairly to the reasonable health needs of every inmate.
No individual with a family member incarcerated at Dodds, regardless of the crime, can sleep comfortably knowing that there is no ambulance available at the facility at all, and no medical personnel at night. As far as we are aware, in our system the punishment is imprisonment and authorities have no legal standing to expand that punishment either wittingly or unwittingly.
Failure to provide reasonable medical facilities, particularly since the prison is no longer located at Glendairy in St Michael, but is a considerable distance from the island’s main primary care hospital in The City, can be construed as additional punishment. How else should one judge the imposition of any factors that can compound injury or even cause death in such circumstances.
Additionally, there is the concern that when public institutions or operatives fail to discharge their responsibility they open taxpayers to potentially major liability. A prisoner who is the responsibility of the state, whose health has been harmed by its actions or failure to act will very likely not find it hard to locate a lawyer who is willing to challenge the state in court.
In the end the court may or may not rule that Millington can be properly accommodated at Dodds, but Barbadians ought not to ignore that the head of the institution’s own medical unit has disclosed in open court that there is no ambulance, doctor visits occur only four hours a day for four days a week and the limited nursing staff is not available between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. each day. And this is in a prison with close to 900 inmates.
This is a situation that authorities at the prison and the Ministry of Home Affairs should address with dispatch.