Managing the health of prisoners

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f3463 (Published 29 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3463
  1. Alex Gatherer, temporary adviser to WHO Health in Prisons Programme
  1. 1Appleton, Warrington WA4 5QD, UK
  1. Alexgatherer{at}aol.com

A challenge to our professionalism and commitment to protect public health

It is too often forgotten that prisoners are part of society and that their health is an important public health concern. Failure to pay due attention to the health and social needs of prisoners is negligent, undermines their human rights, and allows health inequalities to persist. Prisons often have old and inadequate facilities, are overcrowded, contain some of the most vulnerable people in society, and tend towards poor regular data collection and monitoring of health, which often leads to bypassing of health surveillance systems. All of this means that they often fail to carry out the first duty of public health—the protection of health.

Stephen Ginn’s series of five articles on the health of prisoners in England and Wales shone a welcome spotlight on this problem.1 2 3 4 5 The articles deal comprehensively with the main challenges that confront prison health and show the complexity and wide range of ill health that can exist. Most prisons have to cope with whoever is sentenced by the courts and cannot choose which prisoners they receive, even if they do not have the facilities needed. Some progress …

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