Health behind bars: can exploring the history of prison health systems impact future policy? – 2018


• The health of prison populations often represents ‘multi-dimensional disadvantage’.

• Disease trends, societal attitudes and political forces influence prison healthcare.

• Examining historical links between policy and health advances new thinking.

• Greater familiarity with our shared history will promote ‘de-othering’ prisoners.


“The value of history is, indeed, not scientific but moral … it prepares us to live more humanely in the present, and to meet rather than to foretell, the future” – Carl Becker.

Becker’s quote reminds us of the importance of revealing and understanding historical practices in order to influence actions in the future. There are compelling reasons for uncovering this history, in particular to better inform government policy makers and health advocates, and to address the impacts of growing community expectations to ‘make the punishment fit the crime’.

Kathryn M.Weston, Louella R. McCarthy, Isobelle Barrett Meyering, Stephen Hampton, Tobias Mackinnon
Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, Volume 54, February 2018