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William Johnston on hunger strike since the 3rd of September

Brighton ABC | 01.10.2008 09:44 | Health | Repression | Social Struggles | World

The Scottish Executive recently announced that a consultative process was currently under way to consider passing all responsibility for health care facilities and treatment in Scottish prisons to the NHS. Inevitably the announcement was met by hostile opposition from medical staff presently employed directly by the Scottish Prison Service, although their argument against allowing prisoners access to NHS standards of care and treatment in fact makes a compelling case for the proposed reform.

On the 2nd of September the right-wing Mail On Sunday provided a public platform for an “inside source” who claimed to speak on behalf of Scottish Prison Service nursing staff and represent their view that prisoners as an inherently dangerous and predatory group should be denied contact with naive and vulnerable NHS nursing staff who faced the risk of manipulation and intimidation. The source claimed that only experienced prison nurses directly employed by the prison system and answerable to it had the necessary expertise to deal with “murders, rapists and psychopaths” who would invariably see NHS nurses and doctors as “fresh meat” to be used and abused. This de-humanising view of prisoners by people supposedly charged with a duty of medical care to people in prison epitomises a mentality that refuses to separate the role of medical staff from that of those who enforce control and punishment in prison. Such a view that considers even the role of prison medical staff to be subservient to the prime function of controlling and disciplining prisoners inevitably creates the potential for a serious abuse of human rights.

The use and abuse of medical power against prisoners has a long and disturbing history and is a compelling argument for the complete separation and independence of medical personnel from the apparatus of control and punishment in prison. The involvement of independent NHS staff in the medical care of prisoners therefore has an imperative far beyond the narrow economic consideration of the Scottish Executive and goes to the very heart of how sick prisoners are to be treated and cared for.

Within Scottish prisons at the moment the health care of prisoners is administered by staff who are absorbed into the whole coercive fabric and apparatus of the prison system and contaminated by an occupational mentality that views prisoners as something less than fully human, less deserving of standards of care accorded to ordinary patients on the outside. On occasion this close identification of prison medical staff with the institutional interests and collective enmity of guards towards prisoners has resulted in horrific examples of medical abuse and neglect; the medicalisation of prisoners protest and the application of the “liquid cosh” to subdue unmanageable prisoners are inevitable consequences of medical power used at the behest of an intrinsically repressive prison system.

At Glenochil Prison in Stirlingshire prisoner William Johnston has been on a hunger strike since the 3rd of September in protest over a denial of proper treatment for a crippling spinal condition and is currently receiving no treatment whatsoever. Labelled a “difficult” prisoner, Johnston has been denied painkillers and barred from access to the prison doctor because of what medical staff at the prison describe as a “bad attitude”. Johnston is simply left to suffer and his repeated requests to see the doctor ignored. His treatment typifies how medical neglect is used as a weapon to punish and victimize. Prisoners like William Johnston are always especially vulnerable in a system where medicine is inextricably linked to punishment and where prison hired doctors and nurses share the same institutional interests and prejudices as those more overtly employed to maintain prison “good order and discipline”.

Please send letters and cards of support to William Johnston (prison number 50541) and letters of protest to the Governor at HMP Glenochil, King O'Muir Road, Tullibody, Clackmannanshire. FK10 3AD.

John Bowden 6729
HM Prison Glenochil
King O'Muir Road
FK10 3AD

Brighton ABC


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  1. I hope many will join this protest — George Coombs