Health Benefits of Legal Services for Criminalized Populations: The Case of People Who Use Drugs, Sex Workers and Sexual and Gender Minorities

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 38 (4):816-831 (2010)
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Criminalization is a form of social marginalization that is little appreciated as a determinant of poor health. Criminalization can be understood in at least two ways — in the narrow sense as the imposition of criminal penalties for a certain behavior, and more broadly as the conferral of a criminalized status on all individuals in the population, whether proven guilty of a specific offense or not. Both criminal penalties and criminalized status threaten the mental and physical health of these populations in many ways. Incarceration, abandonment by families and communities, social disdain, physical abuse, discrimination, and relentless fear undermine their ability to enjoy their right to the highest attainable standard of health goods and services. Understanding the social determinants of health in these populations and formulating programs to address them have rarely been high priorities in national or international policy.



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