UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Reconsidering the public health failings of the criminal justice system: a reflection on the case of Scott Ortiz Kerr, Thomas


Throughout most of the world, the primary response to the health and social impacts of illicit drug use has been to intensify the enforcement of drug laws. The consequences of this policy approach include an unprecedented growth in prison populations and increasing concerns regarding drug-related harms within prisons and without, including increased risk of HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) infection. This has led to calls from public health and prisoner advocacy groups to prison authorities to improve health services available in the community and those available to prisoners. While considerable progress has been made with respect to the growing implementation of HIV and HCV prevention measures within some nations' prisons, the case of Scott Ortiz illuminates a new set of challenges for prisoners and their advocates as judges often have a faulty understanding of public health arguments and data. In this case we see one such instance where a judge acts in ways not rooted in sound public health evidence or practice to produce a perverse outcome that violates both sound medical and judicial objectives.

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