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What risk factors are there in prison?

Here, we will explore what happens in prisons and why this makes people more vulnerable to infectious diseases.

The conditions and risk factors which people face once they enter prison are important to consider too.

Once people arrive in prison, there are a number of factors related to the prisons themselves, and behaviours commonly seen in people living in prisons, which make people living in prisons more vulnerable to infectious diseases. These will not apply to everyone living in prison.

Diagram with text of all risks of living in prison

These behaviours or circumstances make people living in prison more vulnerable to infectious diseases once they’re living in prison too. Here’s some short explanations as to why:

Limited access to hygiene facilities:

Cleaning materials often aren’t made available to people living in prison because of fears of self-harm. Also, in some prisons, people living in prison don’t have access to appropriate facilities, like toilets, in their cells. Both of these things lead to lower levels of hygiene in prison cells..


Prisons often have too many people in the building. This high density of people makes it easier for infectious diseases to spread from one person to the next.

Sharing of cells, showers and toilets

Infectious diseases can easily spread through people using the same spaces and touching the same surfaces without cleaning in between.

Limited access to protective contraception:

People living in prison are more likely to have come into contact with sexually transmitted diseases, such as HPV, through unprotected sex. Access to protection, such as condoms, can be limited in prisons.

Use of shared or unclean needles:

People living in prison are more likely come into contact with hepatitis B or C, or other diseases, through needle use such as injecting drugs or tattooing. Needles are harder to disinfect in prisons as people often don’t have access to cleaning materials.

Contact with contaminated drugs:

Taking drugs contaminated with soil, for example, may lead to tetanus infection. Drugs are not permitted in prisons and so are often smuggled in from unidentifiable sources, making their quality questionable.

Poor ventilation:

Prison building are often old with few windows which can be opened to allow the air to flow through and recycle. This means that infectious diseases which spread through the air, such as COVID-19 or influenza, can spread much more quickly and easily in prisons.

High turnover of people:

People move from prison to prison as they serve their sentence. Staff also go in and out of prison. This flow of people through the prisons means many opportunities for infectious diseases to enter prisons.

Limited access to healthcare

People living in prison are more likely to face difficulty in accessing healthcare services such as vaccination, treatments or testing for diseases.

Limited access to health education

People living in prison are restricted in what information they can access. This means that people may not know about the benefits of vaccination or other health measures.

All of these factors mean that once living in prisons, people may face more difficulty in accessing healthcare such as vaccinations, and may be exposed to more infectious diseases in the prison environment.

This article is from the free online

Prison Health: Vaccinations for People Working and Living in Prisons (Non-Vaccine Trained Staff)

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FutureLearn - Learning For Life

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