Prison health in the United Kingdom – addressing inequalities to improve health and reduce offending


The mortality rate among people in contact with the criminal justice system is 50% higher than that of the general population. This inequality extends to other health issues and social problems that contribute to ill health. Mental health problems, poor physical activity and substance misuse, in combination with poverty and homelessness, contribute to the complex and multiple needs of this population. Reducing inequalities can therefore improve health and social situations and, in the long term, result in greater public safety and a reduction in crime.

Guiding document for reducing inequalities

Along with the Home Office and the National Health Service, Public Health England partnered with the Revolving Doors Agency, a charity working to improve the lives of those in contact with the criminal justice system, to produce a report entitled “Rebalancing Act”. The report is a resource for directors of public health, police and crime commissioners, and other system leaders at local, regional and national levels. It aims to support collaborative work to improve health, reduce offending and reduce health inequalities among people in contact with the criminal justice system. It sets out the case for investment, but also for making better use of existing resources, whether through joint or co-commissioning of services, pooled budgets or simply more effective collaboration.

The report was launched in the House of Lords, United Kingdom, on 11 January 2017. Mr Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, said, “Crime prevention and the prevention of ill health go hand in hand. This resource will help health and crime prevention experts to improve health across populations and reduce reoffending rates.” Dr Éamonn O’Moore, Director of the UK Collaborating Centre for WHO Health in Prisons Programme (European Region), added, “Partnership work is the key to success. The wider social and environmental determinants of health and offending require collaboration across not only health and justice organizations but also local government, education, voluntary and third sector organizations, wider society and service users. By improving health, we can reduce reoffending, save money and improve life chances for many: this is what we call ‘the community dividend’.”