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Doc brings jail concerns to forefront

Janis Leering
The Mirror
Mar. 5, 2003

Penetanguishene resident Sharon Dion isn't surprised with the recent media coverage of the health problems at the jail. After years of research, Dion, who is chairperson of Citizens Against Private Prisons, said she had a feeling this would happen.

"I would like to say the problem here is mirroring the problems in the United States," said Dion.

She is excited to see that Dr. Martin McNamara, chief of the emergency department at Huronia District Hospital, has come forward to talk about the problems he sees on a daily basis.

"He is a very credible doctor, and when you hear judges and lawyers also talking about problems, there must be some truth to it.

"It's not just me talking about it."

McNamara said some inmates arrive at the hospital writhing in agony because they haven't received proper pain medication, or with physical conditions that have worsened through neglect.

He has even said the health of the inmates has been put at risk because of the medical care they receive at the jail in Penetanguishene.

McNamara said his department has treated inmates with wounds that have become seriously infected due to neglect, and fractured bones that still need X-rays and to be set properly. He said serious illnesses have been ignored because it was believed the inmate "was faking it or making it up," he said.

One of McNamara's own patients, who broke his jaw before he was sent to the jail more than three weeks ago, is still waiting to see a dentist. "As of two days ago, he was still wandering around in pain with a broken jaw," he said in an earlier interview.

Dion said it is unfortunate the provincial government is trying to make the experiment of the private-run jail work.

"I believe by having these problems come to the surface, the government may try to change things. But I don't believe the company will be able to fix these things."

Dion added the jail is trying to make a profit, and is using the inmates as a commodity.

The Central North Correctional Centre is run by an American-based company, called Management and Training Corporation Canada. MTC Canada charges the province $74 a day per inmate, which is much cheaper than the $140 it costs the government for an inmate in a public jail.

"You can't put a price on an inmate's head. They have to be housed, fed, rehabilitated, and medical needs cared for. If you put a dollar figure to that, you will have problems."

Dion believes the government should be accountable for the medical problems at the jail, and she also hopes there will be a public inquiry about the situation.

Brant MPP Dave Levac, public safety and security critic with the Liberals, has said the public should want more answers about the way inmates at the jail are treated. Hearing McNamara speak about the health conditions of the inmates has confirmed Levac's concerns.

"There needs to be a public inquiry. When the ministry has identified problems but nothing was done, when a public servant has stepped forward, when Families Against Private Prison Abuse has formed, something is wrong," Levac said.

Levac has written a letter to the ministry to have a public inquiry, and said he is waiting for the House of Commons to resume. "Any individuals who have suffered should write the ministry if they believe their medical situation has not been handled properly."

Levac has many unanswered questions, and he believes the only way to resolve the problem is for staff at the jail to be more open about what is happening.

"The first step is obvious, to improve the channel of communication. If the ministry is allowing this facility to change medications for the sake of saving money, it's a flaw the government needs to improve."

Doug Thomson, facility administrator at the Central North Correctional Centre, said there are approximately 24 inmates who need to be transferred to the hospital each month.

"We are providing quality medical service, we have a licenced doctor making those decisions, but if there is something serious, they have to go to the hospital," said Thomson.

"Central North is not a hospital, and there are certain types of injuries that people have to be taken to the hospital."

Thomson gave the example of a CT scan, or an MRI.

"We do not have those services here. And our commitment to sending inmates to the hospital verifies they have to go there."

Julie Kwiecinski, executive assistant to North Simcoe MPP Garfield Dunlop, said there is no call for a public inquiry. "We have been in contact with Bob Runciman's office, and the ministry is aware of the concerns," said Kwiecinski.

She said the ministry made 12 recommendations to improve medical care at the jail in January, and it is following up on the concerns. "MTC has to meet ministry expectations, there is a health care policy manual that outlines what they need to accomplish."

Kwiecinski said the government is taking this matter seriously. "Health care is always a concern, no matter where it is."

With files from Torstar

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