Home Institution

New York University

Publication Date

Fall 2009

Program Name

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment


According to both international and Chilean laws, incarceration does not affect one’s right to healthcare. Despite this protection, the health of prisoners’ remains a controversial topic in many communities, which may contribute to the inconsistencies in the levels of access to, and quality of, healthcare services in jails/prisons. A voice that is commonly overlooked, despite its value, is that of the patients of healthcare systems in jails/prisons around the world. This project was conducted in the maximum security prison complex in Arica, Chile and includes interviews with twenty-two incarcerated individuals based on their experiences with healthcare services in prison. Sixty-eight hours were spent observing professionals in the men’s and woman’s clinics of the prison that serve 1,918 men and 327 women inmates, respectively. The interviews examined the opinions of those incarcerated regarding the prison’s healthcare system. In the women’s clinic, 50% of those interviewed expressed positive views toward the prison healthcare system, 33.3% expressed mixed attitudes toward the healthcare system, and 16.6% held strictly negative opinions of the care received. In the men’s clinic, there were a notably higher number of negative views toward the healthcare system; 10% were positive, 20% mixed, and 70% negative. Preventative care such as papanicolaou smears and sexual education classes, access to HIV treatment, and other woman’s health initiatives were among reasons cited for contributing to positive responses. There were recurring reports of inmates experiencing violence from health professionals and correction officers, receiving inadequate treatments, and not having basic health needs met.

This study explores how, when detained, people lose the freedom of self-advocacy for their health, and the resultant need for integrative care that systematically addresses the complications that are inherent to treating individuals in confinement. In light of this decreased patient agency, that is a result of incarceration, prison personnel and health workers are required to compensate for the loss by working integrally to ensure health services are effective and meet the required standards. The opinions of those interviewed, and previous studies, suggest problems arise when personnel fail to fulfill their assigned roles, resulting in the provision of inadequate healthcare services to inmates. Failure to fulfil their assigned roles most frequently occurred in the context of personnel abusing their power, proving unethical treatment, and/or discriminating against patients due to their incarceration status.


Criminology | Public Health


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