Improving Prison Conditions by Strengthening Infectious Disease Monitoring (2016)

“The physical and mental health of detainees is particularly important, as imprisonment deprives them of the possibility to care for their health themselves, and can itself have a negative effect on detainees’ physical and mental health….Visiting mechanisms should be aware of the key health problems facing prisoners [which] may well include, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and substance abuse.” The Association for the Prevention of Torture, Monitoring Places of Detention: A Practical Guide.

Infectious diseases – in particular HIV, TB and HCV – are a major public health concern in prisons and places of detention. They are also a serious human rights concern.

Persons in detention retain all of their fundamental rights and freedoms while incarcerated, apart from those rights that are necessarily limited because of being in a closed environment. The spread of infectious diseases in prison engages several of these rights, including the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, also known as ill treatment.

United Nations human rights bodies and the European Court of Human Rights are increasingly finding that issues relating to infectious diseases in detention can contribute to, or even constitute, conditions that meet the threshold of ill treatment. This includes the inadequate prevention, care or treatment or infectious diseases, the denial of harm reduction services, or conditions that aggravate or favour the spread of infectious diseases.

Several international, regional and national human rights mechanisms are in place to monitor and inspect prison conditions in order to prevent torture and ill-treatment – including the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT), under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT), with National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs), as well as within the Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe (CPT). Issues relating to healthcare, however, and specifically infectious diseases, do not appear to be a priority within monitoring practices.

“Improving Prison Conditions by Strengthening Infectious Disease Monitoring” is an EU co-funded project, led by Harm Reduction International with partners in seven European countries, aimed at addressing this important gap in prison monitoring practices. The project endeavours to reduce ill-treatment of persons in detention and improve prison conditions through enhanced and standardised monitoring and inspection mechanisms on infectious diseases (TB, HIV and HCV).

The project will map infectious diseases in prisons and current monitoring practices for prisoners’ health and human rights in Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Ireland, as well as existing regional and international public health and human rights standards relating to infectious diseases in prisons.

HRI, with the support of a number of experts in the field, will develop a user-friendly tool, including a set of key indicators, to generate better informed, more consistent, and sustained monitoring of infectious diseases in prisons by national, regional and international human rights monitoring mechanisms.

Following the tool’s promotion and dissemination at national, regional and international levels, it is hoped that it will be widely adopted by human rights-based prison inspection bodies, leading to sustained improvements in prison conditions and overall health in prisons.

Organisations involved in the project are: Harm Reduction International (UK), in partnership with Antigone Onlus Associazione (Italy), Praksis Association (Greece), Latvian Centre for Human Rights (Latvia), Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland), University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE-IUL) (Portugal), Observatorio del Sistema Penal y Los Derechos Humanos de la Universidad de Barcelona (Spain), and the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT).