Health of women prisoners

March 06, 2000

-- Would female inmates accept Papanicolaou smear screening if it was offered to them during their incarceration?
by Dr. R.E. Martin

-- Health care problems in prisons
by Drs. P.M. Ford, W.L. Wobeser

During February and March of 1998, Dr. Ruth Martin surveyed inmates at the Burnaby Correctional Centre for Women (BCCW) on their willingness to undergo a Papanicolaou test. Martin found that 75 of 100 survey respondents would be willing to undergo a Pap test. Disturbingly, however, an earlier study found that only 15% of BCCW inmates had undergone Pap smear screening while they were incarcerated.

Martin says that factors such the short stays of inmates - in 1998, 70% of BCCW's inmates were awaiting sentencing and most spent less than 2 weeks at the institution -and the need to deal with inmates' urgent medical needs contribute to this disparity. She adds, however, that the willingness of female inmates to receive Pap smear screening could help reduce the occurrence of invasive cervical cancer in Canada, as long as steps are taken to ensure the testing is done.

In a related editorial, Drs. Peter Ford and Wendy Wobeser argue that medical care for prisoners in Canada must be improved. They point out that failure to provide adequate screening and timely treatment may simply increase the burden of ill health later on and may also increase costs to the health care system.

Canadian Medical Association Journal

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