Many people in prison have complex healthcare needs – both physical and mental – some which pre-date imprisonment. Due to poor conditions and lack of adequate healthcare people in prison may also develop healthcare conditions whilst detained. Research suggests that around one in seven prisoners has a serious mental health condition.
In prisons, existing health conditions may be ignored or neglected. Health problems may develop within prisons due to unhealthy and unhygienic conditions and inadequate control of infectious diseases. Protecting the health of people in prisons is a serious public health issue. Most people in prison will return to the community, and without high-quality care may pose a risk to others.
The likelihood of infection with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and other diseases in prisons is high due to factors such as rates of drug dependency and prison overcrowding. Addressing the needs of people in prison who use drugs is a critical challenge for successful rehabilitation for both public health and preventing re-offending. This includes providing harm reduction measures.
Healthcare provision in prisons should be sensitive to the needs of people in prison. For example, women in prison often do not have access to free sanitary products or reproductive healthcare as required by the UN Bangkok Rules. For transgender individuals, access to hormones and medicines are needed in order to ensure sound mental and physical health.
The UN Nelson Mandela Rules state that people with severe mental health issues should receive treatment rather than imprisonment. Where people with mental health issues are detained, prisons should seek to protect their mental health from further deterioration through a holistic response.
International law requires the rights for all people, including those deprived of their liberty, to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. In practice, the healthcare services many people in prison receive is of an inferior standard to that available in the wider community, and some do not receive treatment at all. We advocate for the right to health at every stage of the criminal justice system, particularly in places of detention and ensure that those in detention are not offered a lesser standard of healthcare than others. We will promote the independence and separation of healthcare from prison administrations and equip prison staff with tools to assist in protecting the health of people in prison.
People with disabilities
Working conditions of staff
Rehabilitation and reintegration