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Tuesday, 14 September, 1999, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Prison is bad for your health
Prisons can be unhealthy places
Long-term prisoners lose their liberty and they are also likely to lose their health.

In that respect, Moors murderer Myra Hindley, who is reportedly suffering from angina brought on by years of smoking, is little different to many other lifers.

Part of the problem is the fact that most prisoners are locked up for long periods in unhealthy environments, but this is compounded by health care which was condemned earlier this year for breaching European standards.

Poor provision

A report by the Joint Prison Service/NHS Executive Working Group found the standard of health care provided in English and Welsh jails breached Council of Europe rules.

It found there was no consistent approach to healthcare in prisons across England and Wales and that standards sometimes fell below those provided in the community.

There was particularly poor provision of services for the mentally ill.

Help call

The report recommended the setting up of a Joint Prison Healthcare Task Force and a Joint Prison Health Policy Unit to encourage a closer working relationship between the prison and health services.

But it discounted calls for the NHS to take over prison healthcare entirely, saying the NHS needs prison service expertise on treating people in custody.

Nick Flynn, deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Anybody serving any length of time in prison tends to be less well than somebody outside in the community.

"That is because they get less fresh air, less exercise and worse food.

"If you go into prison you tend to see prisoners who are quite pallid in complexion and quite unfit.

"Some prisoners take the opportunity to work out in gyms, but many do not.

"Many tend to spend long periods of time banged up in their cells, inactive and sitting on their beds smoking cigarettes."

Many complaints

Mr Flynn said mental health problems were also much more common among prisoners, and the rate has soared in recent years.

It is estimated that one in eight prisoners have been diagnosed with mental health problems, with many more struggling with feelings of anxiety, vulnerability or even thoughts of suicide.

The Prisoners Advice Service (PAS) receives many complaints from prisoners who say that they have received inadequate healthcare.

Hamish Arnott, solicitor for the PAS, said: "There is a lot of concern about healthcare in prisons.

"Prisoners have the same health problems as everybody else, but often they are not given the same kind of treatment they would receive on the outside."

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