WHO/Europe launches new database for prison health

WHO

WHO/Europe launched a new database that includes a wide range of indicators relevant to the health of people incarcerated in the WHO European Region. These indicators cover 7 categories:

  • prison population statistics;
  • prisoner mortality statistics;
  • prison health-care systems;
  • prison environments and risk factors;
  • disease screening;
  • prevention of communicable and noncommunicable diseases; and
  • treatment of communicable and noncommunicable diseases.

WHO/Europe is the only WHO region with a dedicated prison health programme, which was established in 1995. It developed the new Health in Prisons European Database (HIPED) in collaboration with the UK Collaborating Centre for WHO Health in Prisons Programme (HIPP) at Public Health England and with other members of the HIPP Steering Group.

Health of people in prison

Ample evidence shows that health among incarcerated people is significantly worse than that of the general population. People in prison experience higher rates of tuberculosis, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, mental health problems, substance use and substance use disorders. Conditions inside prison walls, such as overcrowding and poor nutrition, further exacerbate the spread of disease.

People in prison share the same right to health and well-being as everyone else. When a state deprives people of their liberty, it has a special duty to care for their health. Identifying and addressing risk factors and disease in prisons is essential to maintaining good prison health.

Prison health is a concern for the whole of society. As prisoners will return to society once they have served their sentences, their good health is in the interest of the wider community. Good prison health also lowers the costs of imprisonment by improving reintegration into society and reducing reoffending.

Improving prison health through improved monitoring

Collecting data on the conditions of prisons in the Region, the governance of prison health systems, prison health policies, treatment and preventive measures, and the health of the prison population is an important step towards improving health for all. HIPED currently covers the 41 European Member States that participated in the national questionnaire for the minimum public health dataset for prisons in 2016–2017.

Further work will be undertaken to collect data from the remaining Member States in the Region. In addition, as many Member States were unable to provide national data for certain indicators, these monitoring activities present an opportunity to advocate for improved data collection at the national level.

The development of HIPED was made possible with the financial support of the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.