Prisons fork out millions for inmates' healthcare
Figures obtained by the Waikato Times under the Official Information Act show the Corrections Department spent $114.8 million on the health needs of prisoners from July 2006 till July 2011.
In the 2010-11 year it spent $26.5 - $7m more than in 2006 - on nearly 21,000 prisoners.
The majority - $19.8m - was spent on staff and administration costs, with $2.7m spent on doctors, $1.3m on dentists, $1.7m on prescriptions and $11,000 on opticians.
The money did not include specialist needs such as hospital visits or surgery, paid for separately by district health boards.
It covered only "immediate" health needs, meaning root canal surgery was not an option.
"If there's tooth decay, the tooth would be extracted," Corrections national health manager Bronwyn Donaldson said.
"So, unfortunately, a lot of prisoners leave us with less teeth than they started with."
The department provided "hobby glasses", which cost about $20 a pair, for prisoners, but prisoners had to reimburse the department for proper prescription glasses.
Prescriptions for prisoners were not subsidised, meaning the department paid full cost - not the $3 the public did for subsidised drugs.
The figures angered some, who say it is unfair prisoners have better, free, access to healthcare than their victims and the average person on the street.
But Ms Donaldson said attending to prisoners' health needs while in jail prevented greater health costs when they went back into the community.
Acting general manager of prison services Jeanette Burns said the department had a statutory obligation to provide a service "reasonably equivalent to that found in the community".
She said prisoners had higher health needs than the general public, often coming from poor areas with limited access to health services.
That meant a high number of prisoners arrived with chronic health needs, such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease, and about two-thirds had suffered a head injury.
Prisoners also had five times the rate of mental health issues than the general public, which required treatment.
But the Sensible Sentencing Trusts' Garth McVicar said that would be all well and good if people on the outside got the same access to healthcare.
"I know a lot of victims who are struggling to get psychological care for the trauma that has been caused by these offenders.
"I know our prisons have to be humane, and I don't have a problem with that, but we've gone over the top nowadays.
"Prisoners have access to amenities that the average person hasn't got."
Prisoner James Samuels, who sparked a dramatic police chase in Waihi which ended in him being shot in the chest and paralysed by the bullet, has received a vast array of treatment in prison.
When the Times spoke to the 23-year-old's lawyer, Roger Laybourn, last year, he said Samuels had made progress that probably would not have happened on the outside.
Serving a 10-year prison term had forced him to continue the treatment he needed, Mr Laybourn said.
HEY, BIG SPENDERS
Waikato prisons: Waikeria – $617,335; Spring Hill – $417,294; Tongariro/Rangipo – $221,797; Others: Rimutaka – $887,434; Christchurch Men's – $606,915; Auckland (Paremoremo) – $516,791; Northland – $437,398; Auckland Regional Women's – $429,591; Mt Eden – $311,776
- © Fairfax NZ News
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