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Sophie Cameron

Features and Opinion Editor, Solicitors Journal

World Health Organization report finds one in three prisoners in Europe suffer from mental health disorders

World Health Organization report finds one in three prisoners in Europe suffer from mental health disorders


Status report published on prison health in the WHO European region 2022

The World Health Organization (WHO) published its second status report on 14 February on prison health in the WHO European region, which has found that one in three prisoners in Europe suffer from mental health disorders.

The report provides an overview of the performance of prison health systems in the region and is based on data obtained in 2020 through a survey with respondents from 36 countries, with a total of 613,497 people incarcerated. The latest statistics show that the most common cause of death in prisons in the review period was suicide, followed by COVID-19 and drug overdose.

The report states that European prisons managed adequate preventative responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in all member states, but deficiencies were found in prisoner access to vaccinations for other diseases. A shortfall was also highlighted in regard to the care provided by prison health systems concerning COVID-19 care, when people were transition into the community following release from prison.

Notably, the report identifies concerns about poor mental health services, overcrowding and suicide rates. The data shows that the most prevalent condition among people in prison was mental health disorders, which was found to affect 32.8 per cent of the prison population. According to the report, the ratio of psychiatrists to people in prison did not ensure equity of care and access to treatment was “suboptimal”.

Twenty per cent of the respondent member states reported overcrowding, which can result in negative consequences for health. In order to ease the problem, the WHO report suggests that alternative non-custodial measures should be considered for offences that do not present a high-risk to society and where more effective measures exist, such as treatment facilities for drug related disorders.

WHO regional advisor for alcohol, illicit drugs and prison health, Carina Ferreira-Borges, said, “The issue of overcrowding in prisons evident in this report is an important reminder of our overreliance on incarceration and the need for alternatives. Ministries of health play a critical role in protecting the basic human right to health. This report highlights the value of a health and human rights-focused approach in dealing with offenders, providing important insights into the specific steps that can be taken to improve our systems, for people in prison and for all of society.”