Former Corrections Secretary stresses the importance of meeting the health care and mental health needs of offenders.

Author:Clayton, Susan
Position:CHICAGO 140th Congress of Correction - Richard L. Stalder
 
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Although R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, could not deliver the keynote speech at Saturday's H-PIS Special Session and Luncheon due to airport delays, attendees did not leave without learning something. Former Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Richard L. Stalder spoke about the need for corrections professionals to address the health care and mental health needs of offenders in their facilities. He pointed out that it is much easier to prevent problems from occurring than to deal with them after they have surfaced.

"I am an advocate for health care in the corrections business," Stalder said. He noted that he addressed the Louisiana Legislature numerous times about the need to do things with the offender population such as educate, provide job skills, deal with substance abuse issues, and provide a values base that does not elevate the culture of gangs and drugs. And he always said, "The result will be that we will have a safer community and a smaller justice system and we'll all be better off."

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Stalder said he came to realize through the years due to the efforts of many in corrections who worked hard to promote effective health care processes that public safety also has a lot to do with what kind of shape people are in when they leave correctional facilities. "It's not just about whether or not they commit another crime; it's also about whether they have the capability to spread whatever sexually transmitted disease they might have had when they got there." In other words, do they have the ability to injure other people even if they do not commit more crimes? Stalder stressed that from a safety perspective, medical issues are as important to those in corrections as the issue of promoting programs that encourage offenders not to commit more crimes.

Shortly after attending a meeting of state and local correctional administrators and being appointed secretary in Louisiana, Stalder realized the importance of testing inmates and staff for communicable diseases. At the meeting, then director of corrections in New York, Thomas A. Coughlin III, told attendees about the HIV-immunocompromised population of inmates in his state who were being exposed to a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis and dying about six weeks later. Coughlin said the state was moving people around from one facility to another frequently and that they were not sure...

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