Conduct health screenings for young inmates, Hong Kong child health professionals urge

Experts say lack of physical and mental assessment for juvenile offenders means they may not get timely treatment and medication

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 9:41am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 9:49am

A group of child health professionals has recommended that Hong Kong adopt appropriate health checks for imprisoned juveniles after a review found these youngsters do not undergo health screening.

The Surveillance Group for the Child Health Policy for Hong Kong, consisting of 10 child health professionals from various sectors, found there were no “systemic” physical and mental health assessments conducted for juvenile inmates.

“It is highly recommended that a comprehensive screening for physical, mental and high-risk behaviours should be provided in the first 48 hours when ... juvenile inmates are [first] admitted, so that timely treatment and assessment of the need [for] continuation of medications can be implemented,” Hong Kong Paediatric Foundation secretary general Dr Lilian Wong Hiu-lei said.

Any health risks could go unnoticed until the situation deteriorated, which could lead to long-term consequences, Wong added.

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The group reviewed juvenile inmate mental health studies from the United States and United Kingdom and found that between 45 and 81 per cent of jailed youths had a mental health disorder. They suspected the same to be true in Hong Kong.

The panel called on the government to adopt a “youth justice” concept – widely used in the US, Europe and Australia – which emphasised rehabilitation and treatment rather than punishment, which the group said the government had adopted.

“During the detention period, it is helpful to let juvenile inmates understand the responsibility of their crime and the impact to victims as well as providing suitable guidance in order to help them [get] back on track,” Wong said.

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The group also found that young offenders received no education or vocational training while they were awaiting trial, during the trial and awaiting sentencing. This period lasted between six months and three years, and increased the risk of them developing other physical and mental illnesses.

In addition, an independent feedback and complaint system should be set up to improve communication between inmates and correction staff, according to Hong Kong Paediatric Foundation chairman Dr Chan Chok-wan, who repeated an earlier call for a child health policy and an independent children’s commission, lead by a children’s commissioner.

“Unfortunately, the government has not formulated a comprehensive child health policy for Hong Kong and the current policies are not child focused,” he said.

Chan said he hoped the government would address these issues in the next policy address.