New article on emerging challenges in prison health

More than 10 million people are imprisoned worldwide. These individuals experience a higher burden of communicable and noncommunicable disease and mental health and substance misuse problems than the general population and often come from marginalized and underserved groups in the community. Prisons offer an important setting for tackling health problems in a way that can deliver benefits to the individual and to the community. A new article authored by the United Kingdom Collaborating Centre for the WHO Health in Prisons Programme (HIPP) focuses specifically on emerging health issues for prisons across the world.

The article uses sources of international data from published systematic reviews and research studies, the United Kingdom Ministry of Justice, the Prisons and Probations Ombudsman Review and other United Kingdom Government briefing papers. It covers issues such as deaths in custody and recognises the impact of noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, which are now the leading cause of mortality in prisons in England and Wales.

The prison population is ageing in most high-income countries; older people in prison typically have multiple and complex medical and social care needs, including reduced mobility and personal care needs, as well as poor health. This article also considers the challenges of working with an ageing prison population.

The article concludes that further research is needed to understand the complex relationship between sentencing patterns, the ageing prison population and deaths in custody; to model its impact on prisons and health-care provision in the future and to determine effective and cost-effective models of care. Research into the health of prisoners is important, but the quantity and quality of studies varies considerably between countries. Recent innovations seek to address this disparity and facilitate the sharing of good practice, such as the Worldwide Prison Health Research and Engagement Network (WEPHREN) detailed in the WHO Public Health Panorama journal. Furthermore, the Health in Prisons European Database (HIPED), launched by WHO/Europe in December 2017, aims to provide open access to a wide range of data on prison health-care systems and the health of prison populations across Member States of the WHO European Region.