Preventing Human Rights Violations in Prison – the Role of Guidelines

In Bernice Elger, Catherine Ritter & Heino Stöver (eds.), Emerging Issues in Prison Health. Springer (forthcoming)

David M. Shaw
University of Basel
It is well known that prisoners’ human rights are often violated. In this chapter we examine whether guidelines can be effective in preventing such violations and in helping physicians resolve the significant conflicts of interest that they often face in trying to protect prisoners’ rights. We begin by explaining the role of clinical and ethical guidelines outside prisons, in the context of healthcare for non-incarcerated prisoners, and then the specific role of such guidelines within prisons, where the main concerns are ensuring respect for the principle of equivalence of care, and for a prisoner patient’s autonomy in health care decisions. After reviewing and analysing various national and international guidelines, we review the literature and assess whether the good practices set out in these guidelines actually translate into changes in professional behaviour and consequent benefits for prisoners. It emerges that physicians both outside and within prisons tend to be insufficiently familiar with the relevant guidelines, and that they too infrequently use the guidance to make decisions, preferring instead to use personal codes of conduct. Guidelines designed specifically for the prison context are important to ensure equivalence of care and should be better known by health care personnel and other professional groups working in prison. Further guidelines should be developed that describe challenging situations and provide concrete guidance as to how to deal with them.
Keywords Prison ethics  Medical guidelines
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