This paper explores the health rights of prisoners as defined in international law, and the mechanisms that have been used to ensure the rights of persons in detention to realise the highest attainable standard of health. It examines this right as articulated within United Nations and regional human rights treaties, non-binding or so-called soft law instruments from international organisations and the jurisprudence of international human rights bodies. It explores the use of economic, social and cultural rights mechanisms, and those within civil and political rights, as they engage the right to health of prisoners, and identifies the minimum legal obligations of governments in order to remain compliant with human rights norms as defined within the international case law.
In addressing these issues, this article adopts a holistic approach to the definition of the highest attainable standard of health. This includes a consideration of adequate standards of general medical care, including preventative health and mental health services. It also examines the question of environmental health, and those poor conditions of detention that may exacerbate health decline, disease transmission, mental illness or death. The paper examines the approach to prison health of the United Nations human rights system and its various monitoring bodies, as well as the regional human rights systems in Europe, Africa and the Americas. Based upon this analysis, the paper draws conclusions on the current fulfilment of the right to health of prisoners on an international scale, and proposes expanded mechanisms under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment to monitor and promote the health rights of prisoners at the international and domestic levels.
Citation: Rick Lines. 'The right to health of prisoners in international human rights law' (International Journal of Prisoner Health March 2008; 4(1): 3-53)