Improving Health Care amongst Female Prisoners

Indo-Pacific Perspective

Health issues are issues that can never be separated from human daily life, both individually and on a larger scale. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the world’s people have paid more attention to their respective health problems. The government and providers of health care facilities are also always trying to increase the quantity and quality of health services for the entire community in general. However, have you ever thought about health services for detainees, both in prisons and in detention centers?

What do you know about health services for prisoners? What is the condition of health services in prisons, especially for female prisoners? What are the challenges faced in accommodating health services for women prisoners? More importantly, why should we talk about this?

When we talk about the provision of health services in prisons and detention centers, we are also talking about a broader meaning than just medical care for detainees. As a form of concern for human rights, various international efforts have been made to promote and protect the rights of prisoners, and to ensure that detainees receive adequate medical care. There is also a significant public health interest in effective health care, as most detainees will eventually return to civilian life.

Also read: Global Trend of Women in Prison: Who are they?

According to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, otherwise known as the Mandela Rules;

“Prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community, and should have access to necessary health-care services free of charge without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status (United Nations [UN], 2016).”

In 2010, the United Nations established the United Nations for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Noncustodial Measures for Women Offenders, also known as the Bangkok Rules. This rule was created to complement existing international standards on the treatment of detainees. However, more often than not, arrangements in the current criminal justice system fail to meet the basic needs of women detainees.

The facts surrounding female prisoners are complex and challenging, making meeting their health needs very difficult. Women in prisons and detention centers often come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with a history of poverty, domestic violence (KDRT), social deprivation, and childhood trauma (Hatton & Fisher, 2018; Wahlquist, 2020).

Accounting for between two and nine percent of the prison population, female prisoners constitute a minority worldwide. As a result, the needs of imprisoned women often do not match international recommendations. However, the rate of women in prison continues to increase, often even higher than that of men (Wahlquist, 2020).

The main challenges in providing health services are:

  • Provide health services to populations with high health needs in a controlled and safe environment.
  • Balancing respect and dignity with surveillance and security,
  • Adapting to women’s needs.
  • Lack of training available for prison staff, and
  • Dealing with mental illness and drug problems.

In general, prison sentences have been designed for men, therefore women are always the exception (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC], 2009). This has always been a challenge in finding specific solutions to meet the needs of imprisoned women. These health services need to be provided immediately and must be of a quality comparable to the health services provided to the wider community. While this provides an opportunity to take a positive plunge in women’s health, there is also a need for appropriate health services to respond promptly to these specific health needs.

So, even though the standards for health care needs for female prisoners have been set, in reality the practice in the field will not always be appropriate, so we must focus on what we can do to contribute and improve this.

What we can do as an individual and/or through our organization to help this population?

This article was written by an Internship Student from UNSW University in the Internship Program of the Anak Bangsa Merajut Harapan Foundation (Angsamerah Foundation) and The Australian Consortium for ‘In-Country’ Indonesian Studies (ACICIS), Hannah Mendoza

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