Health in Prisons Conference - Pompidou Group/WHO

Strasbourg , 

Dear colleagues and friends,

I am honoured to open our joint Conference on Health in Prisons today. Not only because I attach great importance to the topic you will be discussing, but also because some years ago I was overseeing the work of the Pompidou Group, both as Director of Social Affairs and Health, and later as Director General of Social Cohesion of the Council of Europe.

Allow me to start by welcoming our Guests from other International Organisations and Non-Governmental partners:

  • World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe – WHO Health in Prisons Programme, which is the co-host of our Conference;
  • The United Nations Office On Drugs & Crime;
  • The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs & Drug Addiction;
  • The International Red Cross;
  • Health without Barriers;
  • Europris;
  • The Council for Penological Cooperation and National experts;

and our colleagues from different sectors of the Council of Europe.

This conference, jointly organised by WHO Europe - Health in Prisons Programme and the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe, is an excellent opportunity to bring together experts in the field of prison health to develop joint strategies and actions beyond organisational dividing lines.

Across the World - and Europe is no exception - people from the poorest and most marginalised sections of society make up the bulk of those serving prison sentences.

Prisons are not healthy places.

Rates of communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis and tuberculosis are much higher in prisons than in outside communities and prisoners are at much greater risk of contracting these diseases than the general population.

No country can afford to ignore the causes of disease in prisons such as overcrowding, inadequate nutrition and healthcare and unsatisfactory living conditions. We can all agree that effectively treating diseases in prisons will ultimately reduce the burden on a country’s health system.

In addition, much more can be done within our prison systems to reduce the harm caused by drugs and to successfully treat a large number of those prisoners who are addicted to drugs.

Dear colleagues, the European Convention on Human Rights is the base from which the Council of Europe derives its concern for prisoner’s health:

  • Namely the Convention’s articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) as well as;
  • the case law of the European Court of Human Rights;
  • the European Prison Rules and the Compendium of Recommendations (2006);
  • the conclusions of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In addition there are also the standard-setting bodies of the Council of Europe which focus on prisoners’ rights such as the:

  • Council for Penological Co-operation (PC-CP);
  • European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC).

These normative standards show that Human Rights and Public Health are interrelated.

In particular when it comes to:

  • Protecting the rights of prisoners and preventing torture and ill treatment;
  • Supporting approaches based on the principle of equality of care: health care in prisons should be at least equivalent to care provided in the wider community;
  • ensuring that patient consent and confidentiality are respected;

And last but not least:

  • supporting the integration of prison health into national health systems.

The Conference will also provide the opportunity for each organisation to present their concerns, their recommendations and their programmes.

Let me also inform you that this afternoon together with the representative of WHO Europe we will launch the new version of the prison health guide.

Thank you all for attending today and I wish you all a successful conference.

It is with great pleasure that I now give the floor to Ambassador Ana VUKADINOVIC, Permanent Representative of Montenegro and Chair of the Rapporteur Group on Social and Health Questions.

Thank you.