Practicing Penal Harm Medicine in the United States: Prisoners' Voices from Jail

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This article explores how the implementation of the penal harm movement within a correctional health care system can lead to the ill-treatment and torture of prisoners. Through an interpretive/inductive analysis of reports written by a federal court monitor and 103 letters written by prisoners to a federal court monitor overseeing a consent decree of a county mega jail located in the United States, we identify six areas of ill-treatment and torture at the jail's medical facilities: (1) using medical care to humiliate prisoners; (2) withholding medical care from HIV-positive prisoners and those with AIDS; (3) withholding medical care from other prisoners; (4) exposing prisoners to temperature extremes and sleep deprivation; (5) using dental care as a means of ill-treatment and torture; and (6) falsifying prisoners' medical records. Because correctional medical personnel work in a system that subordinates their professional canons to the efficiency-based rationality of the new penology and the ethical relativism of the penal harm movement, we conclude that some correctional health providers sympathetic to the custodial subculture abdicate their ethical obligations, and that the result is ill-treatment and torture of prisoners.