WHO international meeting on prisons and health: recognizing the role of prisons in addressing health inequalities

Following the WHO international meeting on prisons and health, and in collaboration with the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Public Health England and the United Kingdom Collaborating Centre for the WHO Health in Prisons Programme (HIPP), WHO released key conclusions and a call to action to recognize prisons as important settings in which to address health inequalities. The conclusions also set out priorities for reducing drug use and its associated harms in prison.

People in prison have higher rates of drug use and injecting than the general population, and people with drug-related problems make up a significant proportion of people in prison. Among high-risk drug users in the community, many will have repeated experience of prison. The likelihood of having contracted an infectious disease is higher among high-risk drug users with a prison history than among those who have never been incarcerated, and the risk of overdose death in the immediate period after release from prison is high.

The conclusions from the international meeting direct the attention of key decision-makers to measures, programmes and guidelines aimed at reducing drug use and its associated harms in prison. Key to these conclusions is the need for the health of people in prisons to be considered in all policies in order to reduce inequalities, improve health and thereby reduce reoffending.

Furthermore, the conclusions acknowledge the standards set out in the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules). These include the provision of health care to the same standards as within the community and attention to addressing health-care needs that may hamper rehabilitation.

About the WHO international meeting on prisons and health

The WHO international meeting was held in Lisbon, Portugal, on 11–12 December 2017. It brought together more than 100 experts in the field of prison and public health from 30 countries worldwide.

In addition to WHO/Europe, several international and European agencies were represented, including the Council of Europe’s Pompidou Group, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Justice of Portugal, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Public Health England and the United Kingdom Collaborating Centre for HIPP provided support for the meeting. HIPP aims to promote health in prisons as part of the overall public health agenda.