Asian and Pacific Conference on Prison Health

Background and rationale of the conference

“Prisoners shall have access to the health services available in the country without
discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation.”

- UN Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, 1990

About 4 million people are imprisoned in Asia and Pacific every year.1 Like everywhere else in the world, most of these detainees are from socially, educationally and economically disadvantaged communities. They are therefore at higher risk of ill health and less likely to have had access to health care before entering prison.

While incarcerated, detainees run a greater risk of exposure to behavior and environments that increase their chances of contracting infectious diseases and suffering from psychological disorders. As a result, the demands on prison health services are greater than those on community health services. Yet, prisons usually receive far less support in terms of resources and funding. Consequently, health services for detainees are often of lower quality than those available to the community outside.

Continuity of care is not only in the interest of prisoners, this integration with community health services is in the interest of the health of the population at large, especially as concerns policies relating to infectious diseases that can spread from prisons to the wider community. The vast majority of prisoners will return to civil society one day, often to the communities from which they came. Some are in prison for very short periods. When they are released, it is important for the good of society that they return in good health rather than needing more support from the public health services or bringing infectious diseases with them. Continuity of care between prisons and communities is a public health imperative. Many other people go into and come out of prison on a daily basis: staff, lawyers, officials and other visitors. This means that there is significant potential for transmitting serious disease or infection. For these reasons, prisons cannot be seen as separate health sites from other institutions in society.

National health policies and strategies play an essential role in defining a country's vision, priorities, budgetary decisions and course of action for improving and maintaining the health of its population, and for reducing health inequalities. In addition, human rights and equity are fundamental to good governance for health, both in the community at large and inside prisons. As the countries of the Asia and Pacific region set out and work towards their visions and goals for prison health, it is important to ensure that the right resources and services are in place.

Different sectors must work in partnership to deliver sustainable solutions and ensure good health in prisons. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visits places of detention in 15 countries in Asia and Pacific. Activities and projects related to health care in detention are currently being implemented in 12 of these countries.

This is an ICRC-organized conference on health care in detention in Asia and Pacific. The idea is to tie in with and build on other detention-related events in the region, like the Correctional Managers’ Conference and the Asian Conference of Correctional Facilities Architects and Planners.