Prisoners incarcerated across Europe are not receiving adequate health care so their medical conditions usually go undiagnosed and they are often released without adequate support, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday (21 November).
Such failings will come at a “high cost” for society at large as they add to the public health burden, the UN body warned.
The WHO collected the data from 39 European countries between 2016 and 2017 and recommended that prisons test all inmates for tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, mental health problems and addictions.
“A prison sentence takes away a person’s liberty; it should not also take away their health and their right to health,” Dr Bente Mikkelsen of WHO’s Europe branch said in a statement released by the organisation.
She said the prison population has a “disproportionate disease burden”.
“To achieve universal health coverage and better health and well-being for all, as in WHO’s vision, it is vital that prisons are seen as a window of opportunity to change lifestyles and ensure that no one is left behind,” Dr Mikkelsen said.
The WHO said in the statement on its report that it found “the general state of monitoring and surveillance systems for health in prisons is poor”.
It warned prisoners with undiagnosed and untreated health conditions will “add to the public health burden in the outside community after their release”.
The report said that mental health was a key issue, especially after release, when prisoners are most at risk of suicide, self-harm and drug overdoses.
WHO said this meant care during the transition phase was “critical”.
The report found that 13.5% of deaths in prison were caused by suicide, while 14% of EU states do not screen for severe mental health disorders on arrival in prison.
Prisons in Europe, where an estimated six million people are being incarcerated each year, are also often overcrowded, which can affect the health of detainees.
Eight countries, including France, Italy and Portugal, have “a serious overall problem” with overcrowding, according to a 2018 study by the Council of Europe.